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Studies in Medievalism XXVIII: Medievalism and Discrimination [28]
 1843845172, 9781843845171

Table of contents :
List of Illustrations
I: Medievalism and Discrimination
Freedom to Discriminate
“You wouldn’t want to be historically
inaccurate”: Online Responses to Race
in Medievalist Television
Mythogyny: Popular Medievalism and Toxic Masculinity
The Cool and the Queer in Bugs Bunny’s Middle Ages
Medievalism, Antisemitism, and Twenty-First-Century Media: An Update
II: Other Responses to Medievalism (and Authenticity)
Work for the Soul: Medievalism, the Arts and
Crafts Movement, and the Development of a
Practical Spirituality in Evelyn Underhill’s
Novel The Gray World
Exhuming the Living Dead: The Anchoresses of
Chris Newby and Robyn Cadwallader
The King’s Speech: Battle Orations in Medieval
Horns: Vikings, Adaptation, Evolution
Bidding with Beowulf, Dicing with Chaucer, and
Playing Poker with King Arthur: Neomedievalism
in Modern Board-Gaming Culture
Vincent van Gogh, the Tre Corone, and the
Studio of the South
A Transcription of Helen Waddell’s Notes on the Roman de la Rose and Christine de Pizan: Manuscript Queen’s University Belfast 18/1/c

Citation preview

Studies in Medievalism XXVIII.qxp_Layout 1 12/02/19 10:04 Page 1


Medievalism and Discrimination

Studies in Medievalism XXVIII

Discrimination has long played a part in medievalism studies, but it has rarely been weaponized as thoroughly and publicly as in recent exchanges. The essays in the first part of this volume respond to that development by examining some of the many forms discrimination has taken in medievalism (studies) relative to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and ethnicity. These papers thus inform many of the subsequent chapters, which address a wide variety of aspects of medievalism, showing how many cultural areas it touches upon. Subjects include Evelyn Underhill’s literary interest in the Arts and Crafts Movement; the Anchoresses of the filmmaker Chris Newby and novelist Robyn Cadwallader; cinematic battle orations; contemporary representations of Viking helmet horns; modern board-game culture; and Vincent Van Gogh’s Studio of the South. The volume also includes a transcription and contextualization of the celebrated scholar Helen Waddell’s notes on medieval texts.


KARL FUGELSO is Professor of Art History at Towson University.


Studies in Medievalism XXVIII Medievalism and Discrimination an imprint of Boydell & Brewer Ltd PO Box 9, Woodbridge IP12 3DF (GB) and 668 Mt Hope Ave, Rochester NY14620-2731 (US)

Medievalism and Discrimination

Studies in Medievalism XXVIII 2019

Studies in Medievalism Founded by Leslie J. Workman Previously published volumes are listed at the back of this book

Medievalism and Discrimination Ecomedievalism

Edited by Karl Fugelso

Studies 2019 StudiesininMedievalism MedievalismXXVIII XXVI 2017 Cambridge D. S. Brewer

© Studies in Medievalism 2019 All rights reserved. Except as permitted under current legislation no part of this work may be photocopied, stored in a retrieval system, published, performed in public, adapted, broadcast, transmitted, recorded or reproduced in any form or by any means, without the prior permission of the copyright owner First published 2019 D. S. Brewer, Cambridge ISBN 978-1-84384-517-1 ISSN 0738-7164

D. S. Brewer is an imprint of Boydell & Brewer Ltd PO Box 9, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 3DF, UK and of Boydell & Brewer Inc, 668 Mt Hope Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620–2731, USA website: The publisher has no responsibility for the continued existence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this book, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library This publication is printed on acid-free paper

Studies in Medievalism Founding Editor Editor Advisory Board

Leslie J. Workman Karl Fugelso Martin Arnold (Hull) Geraldine Barnes (Sydney) Rolf H. Bremmer, Jr. (Leiden) William Calin (Florida) A. E. Christa Canitz (New Brunswick, Canada) Philip Cardew (Leeds Beckett) Elizabeth Emery (Montclair State) David Matthews (Manchester) Nils Holger Petersen (Copenhagen) Clare A. Simmons (Ohio State) Paul Szarmach (Western Michigan) Toshiyuki Takamiya (Keio) Jane Toswell (Western Ontario) Richard Utz (Georgia Institute of Technology) Kathleen Verduin (Hope College, Michigan) Andrew Wawn (Leeds)

Studies in Medievalism provides an interdisciplinary medium of exchange for scholars in all fields, including the visual and other arts, concerned with any aspect of the postmedieval idea and study of the Middle Ages and the influence, both scholarly and popular, of this study on Western society after 1500. Studies in Medievalism is published by Boydell & Brewer, Ltd., P.O. Box 9, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 3DF, UK; Boydell & Brewer, Inc., 668 Mt. Hope Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620–2731, USA. Orders and inquiries about back issues should be addressed to Boydell & Brewer at the appropriate office. For a copy of the style sheet and for inquiries about Studies in Medievalism, please contact the editor, Karl Fugelso, at the Dept. of Art + Design, Art History, and Art Education, Towson University, 3103 Center for the Arts, 8000 York Rd, Towson, MD 21252–0001, USA, tel. 410-704-2805, fax 410-704-2810 ATTN: Fugelso, e-mail . All submissions should be sent to him as e-mail attachments in Word.

Acknowledgments The device on the title page comes from the title page of Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Alte deutsche Lieder, edited by L. Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano (Heidelberg and Frankfurt: Mohr and Room, 1806). The epigraph is from an unpublished paper by Lord Acton, written about 1859 and printed in Herbert Butterfield, Man on His Past (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1955), 212.

Studies in Medievalism List of Illustrations Preface


Karl Fugelso xiii I: Medievalism and Discrimination

Freedom to Discriminate

Helen Young


“You wouldn’t want to be historically inaccurate”: Online Responses to Race in Medievalist Television

Michael Evans


Mythogyny: Popular Medievalism and Toxic Masculinity

Lauryn Mayer


The Cool and the Queer in Bugs Bunny’s Middle Ages

Tison Pugh


Medievalism, Antisemitism, and Twenty- First-Century Media: An Update

Richard Utz


II: Other Responses to Medievalism (and Authenticity) Work for the Soul: Medievalism, the Arts and Crafts Movement, and the Development of a Practical Spirituality in Evelyn Underhill’s Novel The Gray World Exhuming the Living Dead: The Anchoresses of Chris Newby and Robyn Cadwallader

Carla Arnell


Karen A. Winstead


The King’s Speech: Battle Orations in Medieval Peter Burkholder, 105 Film Christopher Caldiero, Jonathan Godsall


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Horns: Vikings, Adaptation, Evolution

Kim Wilkins 133

Bidding with Beowulf, Dicing with Chaucer, and Timothy S. Miller 149 Playing Poker with King Arthur: Neomedievalism in Modern Board-Gaming Culture Vincent van Gogh, the Tre Corone, and the Studio of the South A Transcription of Helen Waddell’s Notes on the Roman de la Rose and Christine de Pizan: Manuscript Queen’s University Belfast 18/1/c

Aida Audeh 177 Jennifer FitzGerald, 207 Angus J. Kennedy, Nadia Margolis

Contributors 245

Illustrations Karen A. Winstead: Exhuming the Living Dead: The Anchoresses of Chris Newby and Robyn Cadwallader Fig. 1.  Bishop blessing an anchoress. Parker Library, CCCC MS 79, fol. 96r. By permission of the Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.


Fig. 2.  Christine Carpenter’s enclosure. Anchoress. Dir. Chris Newby (photo: author).


Aida Audeh: Vincent van Gogh, the Tre Corone, and the Studio of the South Fig. 1.  Vincent van Gogh (1853–90), Portrait of Eugène Boch (1855–1941), 1888 (oil on canvas), Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France (photo: Bridgeman Images).


Fig. 2.  Vincent van Gogh, The Bedroom, 1888 (oil on canvas), Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (photo: Bridgeman Images).179 Fig. 3.  Vincent van Gogh, The Poet’s Garden (Poet’s Garden I), 1888 (oil on canvas), The Art Institute of Chicago, IL, USA, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Collection (photo: Bridgeman Images).


Fig. 4.  Vincent van Gogh, The Public Garden (sketch of Poet’s Garden II), 1888 (pen and ink on paper), Private Collection (photo: Courtesy of Sotheby’s, New York). 188 Fig. 5.  Vincent van Gogh, Public Garden with Couple and Blue Fir Tree (Poet’s Garden III), 1888 (oil on canvas), Private Collection (photo: Bridgeman Images).


Fig. 6.  Vincent van Gogh, The Lovers/Row of Cypresses with a Couple Strolling (Poet’s Garden IV), 1888 (oil on canvas), Location unknown (Nationalgalerie, Berlin, until 1937) (photo: Public domain).189


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Fig. 7.  Vincent van Gogh, Gauguin’s Chair, 1888 (oil on canvas), Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (photo: Bridgeman Images).


Fig. 8.  Vincent van Gogh, Vincent’s Chair, 1888 (oil on canvas), National Gallery, London, UK (photo: Bridgeman Images).


The editor, contributors and publisher are grateful to all the institutions and persons listed for permission to reproduce the materials in which they hold copyright. Every effort has been made to trace the copyright holders; apologies are offered for any omission, and the publisher will be pleased to add any necessary acknowledgement in subsequent editions.

Volume XXVIII 2019

Two great principles divide the world, and contend for the master, antiquity and the middle ages. These are the two civilizations that have preceded us, the two elements of which ours is composed. All political as well as religious questions reduce themselves practically to this. This is the great dualism that runs through our society. Lord Acton

Preface Discrimination has long played a part in postmedieval responses to the Middle Ages. Virulent racists dating back to at least the nineteenth-century “Knights” of the Ku Klux Klan have often sought legitimacy by reference to medievalist forerunners, such as Sir Walter Scott and his notoriously prejudicial views of medieval “races.” From the very beginning of America’s Antebellum South, not to mention Victorian England, misogynists and (other) opponents of LBGQT+ rights have built on earlier celebrations of the most heteronormalizing conventions of Courtly Love, not least those in Scott’s extraordinarily popular Ivanhoe (1819). And to give just one more of many possible examples, antisemites since at least the eighteenth century have continuously recycled myths about medieval Jews sacrificing children and committing other atrocities. Nor have scholarly approaches to such subjects lacked for bias. Up to the 1960s, before medievalism studies was widely recognized as a distinct field, opinions about such matters were most apparent in the ever more conspicuous absence of discussion about them. Since then, scholars have increasingly signaled their position on such issues not only in choosing to directly address such subjects but also via their language, assumptions, and titles, as with Elan Justice Pavlinich’s “A Princess of Color amid Whitewashed Medievalisms in Disney’s Sofia the First and Elena of Avalor” and Tison Pugh’s Queer Masculinity: Medievalism and the Myth of White Masculinity in Southern Literature.1 Yet discrimination within the professional ranks of medievalism studies has perhaps never been more visible than in a recent series of Internet comments by some of the field’s leading scholars. In an August 28, 2017 post for the medieval-studies blog In the Middle, Dorothy Kim, a Brandeis professor of Asian descent, called for fellow professors of medieval and/or medievalist studies to explicitly condemn white supremacy, particularly as it relates to their area of specialty and particularly if they are white. In response, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown of the University of Chicago argued that “Richard Spencer and company […] are bringing back a fantasy that is their own 1

Elan Justice Pavlinich, “A Princess of Color amid Whitewashed Medievalisms in Disney’s Sofia the First and Elena of Avalor,” in Studies in Medievalism XXVII: Authenticity, Medievalism, Music, ed. Karl Fugelso (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2018), 43–51, and Tison Pugh, Queer Masculinity: Medievalism and the Myth of White Masculinity in Southern Literature (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2013).

Studies in Medievalism XXIX, 2019


Studies in Medievalism

making, and [that is] instantly punctured if you actually study the history of the Middle Ages.” In other words, “we are creating a fear that is unnecessary.” Kim disagreed, claiming that, in this mostly white field, “medievalists need to take explicitly antiracist positions, and act in explicitly antiracist ways in how they conduct themselves in the field,” for “to do so is the only way to work against white supremacy. Protesting that you yourself are not a racist is useless and ignorant.” This, in turn, led Fulton Brown to publicly claim – without actually naming Kim – that the latter’s post was only the latest in a series of public and private disagreements between them and, in subsequent blogs, to post supposed screen-grabs of Kim’s private comments to Fulton Brown, as well as a picture of Kim and a link to the highly popular far-right icon Milo Yiannopoulos. In reply, Kim says she has received a great deal of hate mail, and her supporters, often in the form of professional academic organizations such as the Medieval Academy of America, have condemned the violent imagery on Yiannopoulos’s site and attacked Fulton Brown as racially insensitive.2 This exchange, parts of which went as viral as perhaps anything ever has in medievalism studies, as well as the broader academic and cultural developments that fueled it, led me to issue the following call for papers in October 2017: Though scholars have addressed many examples of medievalist discrimination, much work remains to be done on the treatment of systematically underrepresented and/or disenfranchised communities in postmedieval responses to the Middle Ages. Moreover, the recent, highly public exchange between Rachel Fulton Brown and Dorothy Kim suggests we, as scholars of medievalism, need to examine discrimination among our own ranks. What biases are suggested by our choice of topics, our approaches to them, and the fora in which we discuss them? How are those conversations shaped by publishers, universities, and other institutions that represent the Establishment? If we wish to expose, subvert, or avoid such prejudices, how can we best do so? Though I received far more proposals in reply to this CFP than I have to any other that I have issued in fourteen years of editing Studies in Medievalism, few of my correspondents followed through with official submissions. As more than one candidate noted, the scale of material even within a subset of discrimination turned out to be far larger and more diverse than they had 2

For a far more detailed account of this affair, see Nick Roll, “A Schism in Medieval Studies, for All to See,” Inside Higher Education (September 19, 2017), , last accessed August 17, 2018.

Preface xv

anticipated. Others were apparently deterred by the depth of their emotional response to the material, by “the tears that kept coming to my eyes as I thought about how hard we’ve been [mistreated].” And still others admitted they were dissuaded by the emotions they anticipated in their readers or had already experienced from colleagues with whom they had shared their thoughts. Five scholars, however, came through with a diverse range of approaches to prejudices that have roiled medievalism and sometimes the scholarship around it. In “Freedom to Discriminate,” Helen Young investigates how the assumptions of academic freedom, as well as the history and institutions of particular disciplines, can displace justice with the ideals of knowledge-forthe-sake-of-knowledge. Through a re-examination of her own publications, particularly on race in medievalist fantasies, she explores how well-meaning outsiders can unwittingly play on their privilege and perpetuate discrimination against marginalized scholars. And in tracking the evolution of her thinking on that matter, particularly as manifest in this very self-examination, she both points to and demonstrates the openness that may offer the only escape from such discrimination. Certainly, one might wish that many of Michael Evans’s sources in “‘You wouldn’t want to be historically inaccurate’: Online Responses to Race in Medievalist Television” would discover such openness. In his sampling of reactions to the casting of minorities in shows that reference the Middle Ages, he uncovers many viewers of varying credentials who not only evince ignorance that medieval Europe comprised more than one race but are also deeply offended when non-whites appear in these programs. Indeed, the stridency and sometimes content of their criticism suggest, as Evans notes, that, like so much else about contemporary culture, these attacks have less to do with the reality of or beliefs about the past than with current anxieties over racial and national identity. In “Mythogyny: Popular Medievalism and Toxic Masculinity,” Lauryn Mayer finds similar insecurities behind many contemporary medievalist films, video games, and texts, as well as many online responses to them. Working backward from those responses, she excavates some of the numerous ways the Middle Ages have been distorted to construct narratives that disempower women and other contemporary minorities. By taking advantage of lacunae in the medieval evidence – and by building on discrimination in earlier medievalism – movie makers, television producers, video-game designers, authors, and (other) artists have produced an ahistorical Middle Ages that frames women as weak, vapid, and/or shrewish inferiors who are good for nothing more than domestic servitude, procreation, and, if they are “lucky,” (otherwise) sexually servicing the men in their lives. One of the most surreptitious, widespread, and perhaps influential vehicles for deploying the Middle Ages as a commentary on and factor in


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contemporary sexual and gender identities is the subject of Tison Pugh’s “The Cool and the Queer in Bugs Bunny’s Middle Ages.” Through this survey of the many instances in which Bugs cross-dresses or otherwise behaves in accord with mid-twentieth-century assumptions about femininity, particularly while he visits the medieval past, Pugh demonstrates the ways in which Bugs’s coolness allows him to transcend “the snares of the Middle Ages” and to underscore the queerness of the other characters’ outdated sexual and gender roles. While, and indeed by, remaining detached, unflappable, and facetious, Bugs renders his adversaries, particularly their attempts at chivalry and other cultural forms of masculinity, thoroughly and irredeemably ridiculous. As influential a vehicle as Bugs may be for what many conservative (and some liberal) pundits have termed “identity politics,” perhaps no platform has shaped and amplified these issues to the same degree as has the Internet. In “Medievalism, Antisemitism, and Twenty-First-Century Media,” Richard Utz argues that the recent advent of digital and social media has fundamentally changed the conditions according to which medieval narratives are used to spread contemporary antisemitic views. Owing to its reach and lack of supervision, the Internet has facilitated widespread dissemination of even the most blatantly false and offensive stories of medieval Jews, and, according to Utz, opponents of such lies can only hope to counter them by weaponizing the very same means by which they are spread, by, for example, using Wikipedia and other authoritative sites to dissect these falsehoods. Though Utz and the other essayists in the first section of this volume tend to concentrate on particular kinds, vehicles, and manifestations of discrimination, they collectively provide new insights on even those they do not address directly, as with the many forms bias takes in Carla Arnell’s “Work for the Soul: Medievalism, the Arts and Crafts Movement, and the Development of a Practical Spirituality in Evelyn Underhill’s Novel The Gray World.” In arguing that Underhill’s views on spirituality were already being articulated through her infusion of Arts and Crafts medievalism in this 1904 novel, well before her far more celebrated and far more explicit 1911 treatise Mysticism, Arnell builds a powerful case for The Gray World as a defense of values that Underhill associated with an idealized Middle Ages. Antisemitism and other forms of discrimination by the Establishment are themselves condemned in the name of a supposedly medieval spirituality that arises from devotion to handicrafts. Medieval antidotes for discriminations in a medievalist’s own time were also explored by Helen Waddell, as Jennifer FitzGerald, Angus J. Kennedy, and Nadia Margolis reveal through “A Transcription of Helen Waddell’s Notes on the Roman de la Rose and Christine de Pizan: Manuscript Queen’s University Belfast 18/1/c.” As these three scholars highlight in their extensive preface to their predecessor’s important, hitherto inaccessible comments, Waddell’s mistreatment at the hands of her male contemporaries earned

Preface xvii

a riposte in her selection of texts for translation and in the wording of her translations, particularly in her turn to Christine from the Roman author Jean de Meun. As Waddell’s notebooks make clear, Jean’s misogyny played no small part in the relish with which Waddell celebrated Christine’s use of irony and other literary devices to condemn the denigration of women. A quite different but no less manifest way in which the Middle Ages inform and are informed by later perceptions of gender is articulated by Karen A. Winstead in “Exhuming the Living Dead: The Anchoresses of Chris Newby and Robyn Cadwallader.” Through a historical contextualization of and contrast between Newby’s 1993 film and Cadwallader’s 2015 novel, Winstead shows how these two semi-fictional portraits of medieval women who chose to isolate themselves are not only extraordinarily well grounded in the documents of that time but also reflect the different circumstances in which the novel and film were created. A lesson in the many, often underappreciated forms that scholarship may take, particularly in so-called “popular media,” is thus framed by a discourse on the subjectivity and virtual inescapability of past and present bias. Adaptation of the past to engage the present is also front and center in Peter Burkholder, Christopher Caldiero, and Jonathan Godsall’s “The King’s Speech: Battle Orations in Medieval Film.” This analysis of a particular form of dialogue reveals how history, medieval and otherwise, is often treated as mutable by film-makers and others who attempt to engage their audiences via contemporary media and on terms other than those that would have historically attended the moments being portrayed. A shared experience among viewers is privileged over documentation, even as the performative constants of battle orations, on screen and off, reinforce and augment the historical record of such ephemeral and imperfectly documented events. No less revealing may be the persistence and adaptation of a supposedly medieval form of adornment in contemporary media. As Kim Wilkins documents in “Horns: Vikings, Adaptation, Evolution,” even widespread explanations that horns would not only be cumbersome and difficult to attach to helmets but would also be a major liability in battle, as they could be easily hooked, have not kept them from frequent portrayal on Vikings in popular forms of mass entertainment, such as video games, television shows, and films, sometimes by experts or institutions that elsewhere note the horns’ impracticality. Bias and its attendant discrimination are manifest in this case through “the ways in which social and cultural demands for horns in some instances have spawned one phenotype of Viking, while the social and cultural demands for no horns have spawned another.” Prejudice is also clearly at play in other forms of popular references to the Middle Ages, as Timothy S. Miller documents in “Bidding with Beowulf, Dicing with Chaucer, and Playing Poker with King Arthur: Neomedievalism in Modern Board Gaming Culture.” From George Parker’s Chivalry (1888)


Studies in Medievalism

to King Post’s Beowulf: A Board Game (2015), such games have not only been designed to accommodate each player’s particular understanding of the Middle Ages, but have also changed to reflect broader shifts in attitudes towards the past. Once again, the biases of the producers and receivers keep the Middle Ages alive as a popular destination for postmedieval imaginations, even as those biases resist history. But perhaps few board-game players have constructed a more ahistoric, fantastical Middle Ages than Vincent van Gogh. As Aida Audeh explores in “Vincent van Gogh, the Tre Corone, and the Studio of the South,” this famously troubled artist sought artistic inspiration, as well as refuge from contemporaneous pressures, in plans for an Arles house that would allow him, Paul Gauguin, and Eugène Boch to function as a nineteenth-century version of Italy’s literary “crowns”: Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. Apparently not knowing that these three fourteenth-century writers had vast, sometimes highly acrimonious differences among them, he tried to create an artistic cocoon built on such an idealized, idiosyncratic version of the Middle Ages that it never was, and perhaps never could be, fully realized. Though Van Gogh’s need for such an idyllic retreat was clearly indebted more to his paranoia than to actually being persecuted for membership in one or more disenfranchised communities, he evidently saw his suffering as thoroughly rooted in extraordinarily unjust discrimination. And to that perception, as to so many of the other subjects in this volume’s second section, the authors in the first section bring highly informative insights on the particular ways in which the Middle Ages may be manipulated for or against discrimination. That is to say, they reiterate, refine, and often augment the ways in which the other authors in this volume reveal some of the many biases that permeate the subjects and approaches of scholarship on one of the most protean, fascinating, and influential of historical constructs.

I Medievalism and Discrimination

Freedom to Discriminate Helen Young White supremacist misappropriations of the European Middle Ages have been increasingly visible and difficult to ignore for scholars of medievalism and medieval studies and the general public alike in the past several years with the mainstreaming of far-right politics in the western hemisphere and beyond. There have been, particularly in the last two years or so, numerous public-facing articles and statements by medievalists correcting and condemning racist misappropriations of the European Middle Ages,1 following more than a decade of published scholarship critiquing racialized medievalisms.2 In a social climate of overt racism, it is perhaps not surprising that discrimination within medieval studies has also become more visible to more of us. Medievalists of color have spoken and written of their experiences of being discriminated against in professional settings from conferences to job interviews.3 Numerous professional organizations have made statements 1

A very few examples are: David Perry, “Yes, There Were People of Color in Pre-Modern Europe,” Pacific Standard (2017), , last accessed August 15, 2018; Matt Gabriele, “Five Myths about the Middle Ages,” The Washington Post (2016), , last accessed August 15, 2018; The Public Medievalist, “TPM Special Series: Race, Racism and the Middle Ages,” The Public Medievalist (2018), , last accessed August 15, 2018; “Medievalists Respond to Charlottesville,” The Medieval Academy Blog (2017), , last accessed August 15, 2018. 2 See, for an early example, Race, Class, and Gender in “Medieval” Cinema, ed. Lynn T. Ramey and Tison Pugh (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). Numerous medievalist publications are included in Jonathan Hsy and Julie Orlemanski, “Race and Medieval Studies: A Partial Bibliography,” Postmedieval 8.4 (2017): 500–31, , last accessed August 15, 2018. 3 Recent public statements include: Nahir Otaño Gracia, “Lost in Our Field: Racism and the International Congress on Medieval Studies,” Medievalists of Color (2018), , last accessed August 15, 2018; Seeta Chaganti, “Statement Regarding ICMS Kalamazoo,” Medievalists of Color (2018), , last accessed August 15, 2018; and Mary Rambaran-Olm, “Anglo-Saxon Studies, Academia and White Supremacy,” Medium (2018), , last accessed August 15, 2018. Many others have been made, particularly on social media. Medieval Academy of America, “Statement on Diversity and Academic Freedom,” Medieval Academy of America (2018), , last accessed August 15, 2018. Arnold Lockshin, “Racism and Academic Freedom,” The Harvard Crimson (1969), , last accessed August 15, 2018. Eve Haque, “The Singular Freedom of Academic Freedom,” Journal of Historical Sociology 29.1 (2016): 112–25 (113), , last accessed August 15, 2018. Haque, “The Singular Freedom,” 123. Some recent, notable exceptions include Matthew Gabriele, “Why the History of Medieval Studies Haunts How We Study the Past,” Forbes (2018), , last accessed August 15, 2018; Rambaran-Olm, “Anglo-Saxon Studies.” 9 Helen Young, “Whiteness and Time: The Once, Present, and Future Race,” Studies in Medievalism XXIV: Medievalism on the Margins, ed. Karl Fugelso with Vincent Ferré and Alicia C. Montoya (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2015), 39–49 (41). 10 Robin Anne Reid, “Race in Tolkien Studies: A Bibliographic Essay,” in Tolkien and Alterity, ed. C. Vaccaro and Y. Kisor (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 33–74, , last accessed August 15, 2018. 11 Reid, “Race in Tolkien Studies,” 34. 12 Reid, “Race in Tolkien Studies,” 34. My 2010 article discussed below is one of the examples Reid gives of this “third option.”


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component, and two others included medievalism. My PhD thesis used modern postcolonial theory in readings of Middle English romance, taking the Norman Conquest as colonial trauma. I was friends with people of color (although I did not yet know the term) from early high school. I was very sure I was not racist, and that I knew all about colonialism, postcolonialism, and power. I knew the word “privilege,” and I knew that I had it. I was (and remain) politically left-wing. My personal and scholarly background and credentials, I thought, made me able to think and write ethically, to make the right choices so that I did not discriminate. After I graduated from my PhD program in 2007, I worked, as so many of us have and do, in countless casual university positions, teaching in fields I knew next to nothing about, from journalism to the history of mass communication media, and doing research-assistant work in everything from religious studies to urban planning, education, and nursing. Three years after graduation, I had applied for more lectureships and research fellowships than I cared to count, had just turned my thesis into a book,13 and had realized that I would not get anything other than casual academic work with a CV that branded me a medievalist for postcolonial jobs and a modernist with a suspicious liking for theory for medieval jobs.14 My interest in the Middle Ages had grown, in part at least, from a life-long love of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; my father read the former aloud to my sister and me before I was old enough to read, and the latter before I was old enough not to get nightmares about giant spiders and Black Riders. I had shelves of fantasy literature, most of it inspired by if not an actual imitation of Tolkien’s work: David Eddings, Raymond E. Feist, Guy Gavriel Kay, and Katherine Kerr featured heavily alongside Anne McCaffrey. It seemed quite obvious to me, then, that I should reposition myself as an expert on fantasy literature, and I began to think and write about diversity in that genre. Also in 2010, I was contracted to proofread and edit a collection on cosmopolitan education. The editor was desperately short of a chapter and asked me if I would like to contribute. I had been thinking about fantasy literature and drafted a chapter comparing J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Katherine Kerr’s Deverry series, arguing that both constructed a kind of cosmopolitan society and that fantasy literature could be used in high-school classrooms to foster discussions of diversity and inclusion. The initial draft was too long for the book and became two publications: I excised 13

Helen Young, Constructing “England” in the Fourteenth Century: A Postcolonial Interpretation of Middle English Romance (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen, 2010). 14 I knew the postcolonialism had not been embraced by medieval studies, but failed to fully grasp the reasons, which have been articulated by Sierra Lomuto in “White Nationalism and the Ethics of Medieval Studies,” In the Middle (2016), , last accessed August 3, 2018.

Freedom to Discriminate 7

the sections on Tolkien, leaving only a passing comment that The Lord of the Rings included “intercultural co-operation of a kind that can be fruitfully read as tending toward cosmopolitanism.”15 The sections on Tolkien I re-wrote as the 2010 article for the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts mentioned above, arguing that The Lord of the Rings “is ultimately a cosmopolitan work because it provides a model of society in which common ground and a united purpose not only allow diversity, but require it.”16 Five years later, in a monograph that was the major output of a three-year research fellowship on race and popular fantasy, I argued that the genre “formed habits of Whiteness” partly through imitation of Tolkien’s Eurocentric medievalist world of Middle earth.17 That medievalist world is structured by race: “some […] peoples are inherently and essentially superior to others; both [Tolkien’s] hierarchy and the underlying construction of human difference invoke race-thinking.”18 My different conclusions do not derive directly from methodological change; both pieces use Reid’s third methodological option. Rather they result from several factors: direct engagement with critical race-theory; better knowledge of the history of medievalism (Anglo-Saxonism in particular) and the historical connections of philology and western race-thinking; and my own process of discrimination in weaving together evidence from primary and secondary sources. The core of my 2010 argument was that although Middle earth includes racial stereotypes, its “Good” peoples – humans, hobbits, elves and dwarfs – must overcome historical enmities and racial and cultural differences to defeat the evil of Sauron. My conclusion that “The Lord of the Rings may be read as a vision of a modern racially and culturally diverse world” is flawed not because of what was included in my argument so much as what I failed to see: that “diverse world” was entirely Eurocentric.19 Six years later I wrote: “the Good peoples of Middle earth are marked as White” by references to real-world concepts of race and culture, while Sauron’s servants are “collected together within the single Othering category of non-European, non-White.”20 One difference is in the footnotes: the earlier article cited no history of modern concepts of race because at the time I had not read


Helen Young, “Diverse Lessons: Cosmopolitanism and Fantasy Fiction Inside and Outside the Classroom,” in Education Without Borders: Diversity in a Cosmopolitan Society, ed. Loshini Naidoo (New York: Nova Science, 2010), 145–57 (149). 16 Helen Young, “Diversity and Difference: Cosmopolitanism and The Lord of the Rings,” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 21.3 (2010): 351–65 (352). 17 Helen Young, Race and Popular Fantasy Literature: Habits of Whiteness (London and New York: Routledge, 2015), 10. 18 Young, Race and Popular Fantasy Literature, 23. 19 Young, “Diversity and Difference,” 362. 20 Young, Race and Popular Fantasy Literature, 23.


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them; the latter did.21 Through such readings I recognized that what I had termed “diversity” derived from the intra-European race-thinking of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that created hierarchies within hierarchies of race, such that homo europeaus – European Man – contained subsets of whiteness. Through the same readings, and others,22 I knew more of the intensely racial and racist history of the Anglo-Saxonism and philology that shaped Tolkien’s world. In the accounts of Tolkien’s philology that I had read by 2010, notably that in Tom Shippey’s The Road to Middle Earth,23 no mention was made of “the deep investment of philology in the concept of race.”24 Dmitra Fimi’s Tolkien, Race and Cultural History, which was highly influential on my knowledge and thought in later years, had been published in 2009 but was frustratingly out of reach, as it was not held in any university library in Sydney where I lived, and I did not have access to interlibrary loans.25 I noted its existence in the 2010 article, but had no idea what it said. To imply, however, that I had no way of knowing about the links between race thinking and philology would be entirely false: Edward W. Said’s Orientalism,26 which I read as an undergraduate, makes them very clear. My 2010 argument acknowledged that “Tolkien’s medievalism almost certainly provided him with some of the material that is commonly criticized because of its apparent racial stereotypes,” and argued that descriptions of 21






Robert J. C. Young, The Idea of English Ethnicity (Maldon, MA: Blackwell, 2008); Nell Irvin Painter, The History of White People (New York: Norton, 2010); and Tommy Lee Lott, The Invention of Race (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999). Including Reginald Horsman, “Origins of Racial Anglo-Saxonism in Great Britain before 1850,” Journal of the History of Ideas 37.3 (1976): 387–410; Hugh A. MacDougall, Racial Myth in English History: Trojans, Teutons, and Anglo-Saxons (Montreal: Harvest House Press of New England, 1982); and Geoffrey Galt Harpham, “Roots, Races, and the Return to Philology,” Representations 106.1 (2009): 34–62, , last accessed August 15, 2018. T. A. Shippey, The Road to Middle Earth (London: HarperCollins, 1982). Shippey’s book argues that Tolkien’s academic medievalism, particularly his philology, profoundly shaped his mythos. It is one of the founding texts of both Tolkien studies and medievalism. Harpham, “Roots, Races, and the Return to Philology,” 41. Dimitra Fimi, Tolkien, Race, and Cultural History (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). Fimi’s book links social and intellectual movements and events from Tolkien’s lifetime to the development of his legendarium. Fimi explores the influence of nineteenth- and twentieth-century ideas about race on what she terms Tolkien’s “hierarchical world” in chapter ten (pp. 131–59). Edward Said, Orientalism (London: Penguin Books, 1995). Orientalism, first published in 1978, is a foundational text of postcolonial studies that details the eponymous western practices of representation of the people, cultures, and societies of the Middle East, North Africa and Asia. Said sheds light on the colonialist and imperialist ideologies embedded within scholarship from the days of the early modern academy, including but not limited to philology.

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Sauron’s armies draw on medieval romance representations of Saracens.27 Influenced by Geraldine Heng’s Empire of Magic,28 I commented on the long history of Orientalist Othering in western literature, and suggested that “the racialized religious conflict [of the Crusades] […] provides a background and set of influences […] that is certainly potentially troubling to a contemporary audience, and […] cannot be simply dismissed.”29 The decision to make this point about racial stereotyping in representations of evil but to then claim to “examine the full sweep of his [Tolkien’s] engagements with diversity” evinces my own white privilege in that I had the option to not consider race and racism – even in an article that addressed them – when it did not suit. The privilege is not merely mine, however; the decision was shaped by disciplinary disengagement with race in medieval studies and in Tolkien studies. What, then, was the shape of published research on race in Tolkien’s writing before 2010? Writing the article, I chose not to engage with most of the work on Peter Jackson’s films beyond noting that race was a topic of discussion in scholarship on them and citing a few examples of such work; this reflects the methodological divide Reid outlines in its privileging of the primary text, its sources, and aesthetics. This decision meant that I did not encounter either Sean Redmond’s or Lianne McLarty’s chapters on whiteness in The Lord of the Rings films, the only two chapters that were then published on the topic.30 Some of what had been published I could not get access to or did not know of.31 Exclusion of material from library collections and scholarly databases is another means of perpetuating disciplinary and institutional power structures that marginalize perspectives and scholars. I cited a number of works that discussed race and accusations of racism,32 although not those 27 Young,

“Diversity and Difference,” 360–61; see also Margaret Sinex, “‘Monsterized Saracens,’ Tolkien’s Haradrim, and Other Medieval ‘Fantasy Products’,” Tolkien Studies 7 (2010): 175–96. 28 Geraldine Heng, Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003). 29 Young, “Diversity and Difference,” 361. 30 Sean Redmond, “The Whiteness of the Rings,” in The Persistence of Whiteness: Race and Contemporary Hollywood Cinema, ed. Daniel Bernardi (London: Routledge, 2008), 91–101; Lianne McLarty, “Masculinity, Whiteness, and Social Class in the Lord of the Rings,” in From Hobbit to Hollywood: Essays on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, ed. Ernest Mathijs and Murray Pomerance (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006), 173–88. 31 Fimi, Tolkien, Race, and Cultural History is an example of the former; Pascal Nicklas, “The Paradox of Racism in Tolkien,” Inklings: Jahrbuch für Literatur und Ästhetik 21 (2003): 221–35 is an example of the latter. 32 For example: Christine Chism, “Racism, Charges Of,” in J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment, ed. Michael D. C. Drout (London: Routledge, 2007), 558; Christine Chism, “Race and Ethnicity in Tolkien’s Works,” in J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, 555–56.


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that linked The Lord of the Rings to racist extremist ideologies.33 Whether the latter was a conscious omission or not I do not know and consider a moot point; at least one was easily available in the nearest university library.34 The three articles that frame my argument most significantly all acknowledge the racialized taxonomies of humanity in Middle earth, but argue that they are part of a complex world that promotes acceptance;35 this was, as noted above, the broad shape of my own argument in 2010. Anderson Rearick, for example, suggested attention to the “overall message of the work rather than […] particular battles or physical description” in his argument that Tolkien’s work was not racist.36 The arguments we make are our own, but we do not make them in a vacuum. Patterns of citation “shape what we are able to think about a given field,” are themselves shaped by racial exclusion, and “can be explained away as the personal failings of unproductive researchers rather than the result of systematic exclusion.”37 As I noted above, my reading and references expanded significantly between 2010 and 2015. To the best of my knowledge the only scholar of color I cited in 2010 was Sue Kim, whose work on films I merely noted,38 but in 2015 I cited and engaged with scholars of color; that engagement opened up new ideas and knowledge. Between 2010 and 2015 I also read literally hundreds if not thousands of posts about race, The Lord of the Rings, fantasy, and the Middle Ages on fan forums, blogs, and social media. I had read and cited some in 2010 as evidence of the discussions about race sparked by Tolkien’s work. Many were deeply and thoughtfully critical of 33

Christine Chism, “Middle-Earth, the Middle Ages, and the Aryan Nation: Myth and History in World War II,” in Tolkien the Medievalist, ed. Jane Chance (London: Routledge, 2003), 63–92; and Peter E Firchow, “The Politics of Fantasy: The Hobbit and Fascism,” The Midwest Quarterly 50.1 (2008): 8,15–31. 34 Chism, “Middle-Earth.” 35 Jane Chance, “Tolkien and the Other: Race and Gender in the Middle Earth,” in Tolkien’s Modern Middle Ages, ed. Jane Chance and Alfred K. Siewers (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 171–86; Anderson Rearick, “Why Is the Only Good Orc a Dead Orc? The Dark Face of Racism Examined in Tolkien’s World,” Modern Fiction Studies 50.4 (2004): 861–74; and Sandra Ballif Straubhaar, “Myth, Late Roman History, and Multiculturalism in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth,” in Tolkien and the Invention of Myth, ed. Jane Chance (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2004), 101–17. 36 Rearick, “Why Is the Only Good Orc a Dead Orc?,” 872. 37 Victor Ray, “The Racial Politics of Citation,” Inside Higher Education (2018), , last accessed August 15, 2018. My thinking on citation, and throughout this essay generally, owes much to Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017). 38 Sue Kim, “Beyond Black and White: Race and Postmodernism in The Lord of the Rings Films,” Modern Fiction Studies 50. 4 (2004): 877–907. Kim’s article explores how Jackson’s films “function within and reproduce the logic and process of postmodern, neoliberal capitalism, both drawing on and burying issues of race” (p. 876).

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its racial politics; others celebrated them. In 2012 I encountered the “High Fantasy and Lord of the Rings” forum on the notorious white-supremacist website; the forum was begun with the express purpose of recruiting fans to that ideology.39 The combination of scholarship, fandom, and ideologies made it clear to me that deciding to put aside race in Middle earth in a discussion of diversity and difference side-stepped a most pressing point. Proper attention to primary and secondary sources revealed the fundamental, structuring role race plays in Middle earth. Race can be ignored or elided in readings of The Lord of the Rings, but doing so results in a limited, inherently privileged understanding. Why, then, do we make our decisions as we do? The statement “Medievalists Respond to Charlottesville” that circulated and was supported by numerous medievalist scholarly groups and associations in the wake of the 2017 white extremist “Unite the Right” rally states: “Every generation of scholars creates its own interpretations of the past. Such interpretations must be judged by how well they explain the writings, art, and artifacts that have come down to us.”40 Those judgments, whether they are of a particular publication, or a generation’s or centuries’ worth of scholarship in a discipline, are never based purely on empirical evidence and the logic of an argument. As Carolyn Dinshaw argues, even among “academically disciplined, historically minded scholars […,] some kind of desire for the past motivates all our work. […] love and knowledge are as inextricable as the links in chain mail.”41 As I have written before, my 2010 article was shaped by my desire for The Lord of the Rings to not be racist.42 My above narrative about a childhood love of something medievalist that fed later scholarly interests will be reminiscent for many. As Dorothy Kim and other medievalists of color have observed, in person and on social media, it is a narrative that is particularly available to white medievalists. Cord Whitaker writes, reflecting on a childhood dream of fighting a dragon: “little black boys from Philadelphia are not supposed to concern themselves with knights and ladies.”43 My desire for The Lord of the Rings not to be racist was intimately personal. I did not want the books I loved to encode an ideology that I rejected. 39

40 41

42 43

Michael Barbaro, “‘The Daily’ Transcript: Interview with Former White Nationalist Derek Black,” The New York Times (August 22, 2017), , last accessed August 15, 2018. “Medievalists Respond to Charlottesville.” Carolyn Dinshaw, How Soon is Now? Medieval Texts, Amateur Readers, and the Queerness of Time (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012), xiv. Helen Young, “Medievalfail,” In the Middle (2017), , last accessed August 15, 2018. Cord J. Whitaker, “Race-Ing the Dragon: The Middle Ages, Race and Trippin’ into the Future,” Postmedieval 6.1 (2015): 3–11 (3), , last accessed August 15, 2018.


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I  would have been unable to reify that desire in peer-reviewed academic argument by discriminating among my sources and evidence without white privilege and the long disciplinary traditions that allowed me to not only put race aside, but also provided models of how to do so. It is worth pointing out that the journal in which I published was edited by a white man, and that fantasy studies, from which field peer-reviewers were likely drawn, has few scholars of color working in it and a track record of engagement with its own habit of whiteness that was commensurate with that of medieval studies in the first decade of the 2000s. During the social media storm that followed the Leeds International Medieval Congress themed “Otherness” in 2017, I suggested that one reason for the strong resistance to change in medieval studies is that “we don’t want to hear that the field we have invested our time, effort, thought and parts of our identities (professional and otherwise) in is structured by racism and has been since its inception.”44 At the time I was reflecting in part on my 2010 article on The Lord of the Rings and the narrative justifying my scholarly interests that I had constructed around love of Tolkien’s writings. Philology, in its great urgency to claim a place as one of the sciences, indeed as premier among them, insisted on the rationality of its methods and approaches in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, founding the myth of objective scholarship separate from the personal ideologies and affections of the scholar. Rationality in that same period was linked to whiteness in a false connection that is still used to preserve the status quo of racial inequality by dismissing people of color as over-emotional and over-reacting. The ethical and moral arguments for absolute academic freedom depend on the idea that pure scholarly rationality is not only possible but universally present in scholarly practice. This is manifestly not the case for individual scholars, the disciplines that structure their thought, or the institutions that employ them. Although much of this essay is written in a confessional mode, my intention is not self-flagellation or a desire for forgiveness. Rather it is to illuminate the ways that our training and disciplinary contexts directly shape the processes through which we, as individual scholars, make our arguments and draw our conclusions, and to point out that we are not circumscribed by our contexts if we allow ourselves the freedom to be genuinely intellectually and affectively open. If we do not, our freedom to discriminate between ideas will always be predicated on discrimination against people.


Young, “Medievalfail.”

“You wouldn’t want to be historically inaccurate”: Online Responses to Race in Medievalist Television Michael Evans The website MedievalPOC, which tracks examples of people of color in premodern art, carries the subtitle “Because you wouldn’t want to be historically inaccurate.” The blog’s creator, Malisha Dewalt, aims “to address common misconceptions that People of Color did not exist in Europe before the Enlightenment, and to emphasize the cognitive dissonance in the way this is reflected in media produced today.”1 The purpose of this article is to examine that dissonance through a survey of online responses when audiences are confronted with people of color in medievalist television, and to interrogate what lies behind cries of “historical inaccuracy” when this occurs. The invocation of whiteness as a measure of “historical accuracy” in popular media seems inconsistent given the other examples of historical license that people are willing to accept (e.g., actors speaking in modern English). Helen Young, in a study of issues of race and ethnicity in the Dragon Age games, writes that: there is a very strong desire amongst fantasy fans – and authors and game-makers as well – for imagined worlds to reflect historical realities of the Middle Ages. Author Chuck Wendig pointed out […] “England in the Middle Ages didn’t really have werewolves, blood-forged swords, or ancient black spires that channel magic […]. If we can have werewolves, why can’t we have black people?” The point that a fantasy world


Malisha Dewalt, Medieval POC: People of Color in Medieval Art History, Tumblr, , last accessed May 21, 2017.

Studies in Medievalism XXIX, 2019


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is, by definition, not historically accurate, however, does not derail the demand for historical authenticity.2 Likewise, Malisha Dewalt established her blog because she was frustrated at the assumption that “‘Everyone was white back then.’ And ‘back then’ was literally any time ever, or back in the good old days of Westeros.”3 Behind claims of merely wishing to be true to the historical record lurk issues of racial and national identity. Young, referring to Patrick Geary’s work on national identity and the early Middle Ages,4 argues that concepts of nationhood are bound up with the perception of the medieval past more so than, perhaps, any other era. “From the late eighteenth century onwards, the Middle Ages has been considered the formative crucible for specific ethnic nationalisms.”5 Young argues that this nationalism, based on supposed medieval national origins, transformed into a race-based view of the Middle Ages with the era of European colonialism, especially that of the “Anglo-Saxon” British empire: Modern constructions of race which take the Middle Ages as the originary moment developed in large part to justify the global expansion of European powers and peoples by creating racial hierarchies. Modern English-speaking nations, including the USA and Australia, owe the nature of their current existence to a historical belief in the mental, moral, physical, and political superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race.6 To address how issues of race and “historical accuracy” are perceived online, I will focus on a few case-studies of the casting of black actors in medievalist television and the reaction to them online, particularly on social media, focusing largely (but not exclusively) on the Facebook group British Medieval History (abbreviated below as BMH).7 BMH is a large group with (as of July 2018) a little short of 100,000 members.8 It is a public group and attracts a mixture of academic and lay members, with probably the large 2 3

4 5 6 7 8

Helen Young, “It’s the Middle Ages, Yo!: Race, Neo/medievalisms, and the World of Dragon Age,” The Year’s Work in Medievalism 27 (2012): 1–9 (6). David M. Perry, “Yes, there were People of Color in the Pre-modern Europe,” Pacific Standard, December 29, 2017, , last accessed July 31, 2018. Patrick J. Geary, The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002). Helen Young, “Place and Time: Medievalism and Making Race,” Medievalism Now: special issue of The Year’s Work in Medievalism 28 (2013): 2–6 (2). Young, “Place and Time,” 2–3. British Medieval History Facebook page, , last accessed July 27, 2017. There were 97,300 members on July 20, 2018.

Online Responses to Race in Medievalist Television 15

majority belonging to the latter category. Facebook does not provide statistics for the academic affiliation of members, but my own random sampling of fifty members whose current employment or educational status could be established from their public profiles revealed forty-one people (82%) with no stated academic affiliation or higher degrees, three (6%) with academic affiliations but not in history or medieval studies, four (8%) with higher degrees outside history or medieval studies, and two (4%) working in history but not as academics (a writer and a broadcaster).9 The Facebook group operates in English, with the United States and United Kingdom the countries providing the largest number of members (35,783 and 16,202, respectively). Group membership therefore skews toward the Anglophone world, but there are many members from Asia (India and Pakistan being the third and fourth best-represented countries).10 The group is moderated, but comments that breach the group’s rules not to discuss “current day politics & religion”11 often stay up long enough to attract responses. The discussion threads referred to in this article dated between May 2015 and November 2017, a time period that included major political developments in the Anglophone world that reflected or raised anxieties about national and racial identity, including the Brexit referendum in June 2016, the election and inauguration of Donald Trump in November 2016–January 2017, and the “Unite the Right” rally of the US far-right in August 2017. The Hollow Crown, a BBC television adaptation of Shakespeare’s history plays from Richard II to Richard III, produced a debate about the casting in season two of the black actor Sophie Okonedo as Margaret of Anjou, and BMH Facebook users engaged with the controversy. AL12 wrote: Not sure about the casting of Margaret of Anjou, who is apparently played by Sophie Okonedo though. Not reflection on her acting ability (I think I’ve seen her before and she was good), but I don’t think Queen Margeret was – well – a black Lady. (No offence at all meant to people of African or afro caribbean background – many are friends of mine and I’m sure she’s a great actress as said above). It seems BBC political correctness is getting in the way of historical authenticity again.... 9

Figures based on a survey of new members listed on the BMH Facebook page, July 25, 2018. 10 All figures are from David Pilling, personal correspondence with the author, Facebook Messenger, July 20, 2018. Pilling is one of the moderators of the group. 11 “Group Posting Guidelines,” British Medieval History Facebook page, , last accessed July 20, 2018. 12 I have given initials of users only for privacy purposes.


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Other users disagreed, on the grounds that the viewer is watching drama, not history: “We need to suspend disbelief so much to watch drama that I have no issue with a ‘black’ actor playing Marguerite, I have more of an issue with the treatment of Richard III but I understand all the arguments for seeing it as ‘drama’ rather than historical fact” (KN). Others defended the casting on anti-discrimination grounds: “In an age when black historical personalities are routinely still played by white actors [a reference to Ridley Scott’s Exodus], I am not about to start griping about the casting of Sophie Okonedo” (HS).13 The issue resurfaced in a new thread some eighteen months later, asking users’ opinions on the series. “Good, but they go completely off the track with casting. Margaret of Anjou doesn’t make any sense” (PE). “[W]as good but not Great, sloppy casting and yes Margaret of Anjou Role ... was a prime […] example” (LL).14 A second example that further demonstrates the inconsistencies inherent in appeals to “historical accuracy” was the casting of an African-American actor, Sinqua Walls, as Sir Lancelot in the TV series Once Upon a Time. This show is based on (in the show introduction’s words) “story book” characters and plots, which usually refers to fairy tales but also includes figures (introduced in season five) from medieval legend, such as Robin Hood and King Arthur. It is therefore not a show with a medieval setting, but is based in the contemporary United States and parallel worlds, making the requirement of ethnic “authenticity” in casting even less pressing. EM (who is Canadian) posted a publicity still from the show, representing Walls as Lancelot, with the comment “Americans. Meh.”15 A lively discussion followed in the comments thread, with the most interesting exchange being between two British commenters, AD and EB: AD: Well over here in Britain the vast majority of people would see this as simply absurd. EB: I was born in Bath, and have lived in the UK my entire life. Firstly it’s pretty much accepted Arthur was probably a myth, let alone Lancelot. Secondly, we’re talking about a TV show. Thirdly, what is the issue with gender/race neutral characters? Would a female Batman wind you up this much? AD: Indeed they are but to me, it’s just another example of TV white washing. 13

Comments on British Medieval History Facebook page, November 25, 2015, , last accessed April 27, 2017. 14 Comments on British Medieval History Facebook page, May 20, 2017, , last accessed July 27, 2017. 15 Comments on British Medieval History Facebook page, January 20, 2017, last accessed January 20, 2017 [URL unavailable; thread deleted by site administrators].

Online Responses to Race in Medievalist Television 17 EB: “white washing”? At this point I will assume you’re trolling and step off. AD: EB […], but of a poor analogy, to link Lancelot to Batman lol. The Knights of the Round Table in the Arthurian legend is a part of the British cultural identity which has more credence than Batman which is purely fictional.16

The assertion of “British cultural identity” is therefore central to this discussion about race, with the assumption that America, and US television in particular, is less careful about “historical accuracy” than Britain or Canada, and that the whiteness of Lancelot (a French knight who never existed as a historical figure) must be defended in the name of British identity. The 2017 BBC drama-documentary series 1066: A Year to Conquer England featured Jotham Annan as the Norman lord Robert de Beaumont. Facebook user and BMH member PG (a Briton living in Canada) was concerned that his ancestor was portrayed as black: “I posted on here in regards to one of my ancestors being played by an African American. I first want to say I have nothing against African American actors [sic: Annan is British]. I just take issue with them playing a Norman knight.” PG’s complaint about Annan’s casting as his ancestor seems to reflect a racial anxiety at a challenge to the commentator’s whiteness. The commentators in the BMH discussion threads cited above do not appear to have any links to the far-right, but there does appear to be an extremist presence in the group, represented by members’ use of crusader imagery and the expression “Deus Volt,” associated with the First Crusade, symbolism that has been adopted by online white nationalists.17 This implies a political context for these discussions and for anxieties about national and racial identity expressed in them; the examples cited in this article came from before the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 11, 2017, an event that brought to wider attention the far-right’s use of medieval imagery such as shields decorated with heraldic devices.18 Beyond BMH, there are numerous examples where far-right organizations or commentators have taken up the theme of complaint about casting decisions in medievalist television. David Vance, author of the right-wing, anti-BBC blog Biased BBC, condemned Jotham Annan’s casting in 1066 as “revising history to suit its 16

Comments on British Medieval History Facebook page, January 20, 2017, last accessed January 20, 2017. 17 Andrew B. R. Elliott, Medievalism, Politics and Mass Media: Appropriating the Middle Ages in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2017), 133–82. 18 Paul B. Sturtevant, “Leaving ‘Medieval’ Charlottesville,” The Public Medievalist, August 17, 2017, , last accessed July 31, 2018.


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own anti-White narrative.”19 The casting of black actor David Harewood in the BBC Robin Hood series of 2006–09 attracted particular opprobrium from far-right sources. British National Party (BNP) leader Nick Griffin complained that “the BBC has a black Friar Tuck in Robin Hood […]. That is race-based craziness.” The white supremacist website Stormfront picked up on the controversy, with the predictable commentary about “political correctness gone mad.” Stormfront users’ reactions seem to betray their racial anxiety at the fear of being outnumbered by people of color: “Next we will see a black Lancelot or maybe Horatio Hornblower. I would like to see a black as Watson in Sherlock Holmes. How about the original settlers of London being black. Give it time. It’s coming.” “Soon you’ll see a film about the moon landings featuring a Black astronaut” (this from someone with the significant [in the context of medievalism] username “Saxon Realm”). “They’ll all be black and mixed-race soon”; “European history will soon be irrelevant in an all brown world.”20 The debate around the casting of Sophie Okonedo as Margaret of Anjou was also played out on Twitter, where Chris Wood, a county councillor for the pro-Brexit United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), tweeted a complaint that “the BBC has finally given up on any kind of historical accuracy. How can Margaret of Anjou be played by Sophie Okonedo?” above a manuscript image from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book of a white, blondehaired Margaret alongside a photo of Okonedo. Other Twitter users pointed out the inconsistency of Wood’s appeal to historical accuracy. Chevalier au Canard responded: “Hi @CllrChrisWood that’s a lovely medieval image you have there. It’s from a manuscript that claims M of Anjou was descended from a swan.” Others pointed out that in Shakespeare’s time Margaret would have been played by an adolescent boy. In the words of David Llewellyn, “The original actor who played Margaret of Anjou had a penis.”21 I would argue that insistence on “historical accuracy” in the form of markers such as the “correct” ethnicity of actors is a form of banal medievalism, providing an innocent and putatively apolitical cover for deeper concerns about racial or national identity. Andrew Elliott, who defined the term “banal 19

David Vance, “Black and White Continued,” Biased BBC: Exposing the Broadcasting Bias of the BBC, March 17, 2017, , last accessed June 15, 2017. Vance is associated with alt-right media network, which “provides an alternative to the fake news mainstream media narrative.” “About Us,”, , last accessed July 31, 2018. 20 “New BBC Robin Hood Series has a Black Friar Tuck,” Stormfront, April 1, 2009, , last accessed June 15, 2018. 21 Bethan McKernan, “UKIP Councillor Attempts to Blast BBC for ‘historical inaccuracy’, gets Destroyed by Actual Historian,” Indy100, , last accessed August 6, 2018.

Online Responses to Race in Medievalist Television 19

medievalism,” points to medievalist images or expressions, such as cartoons and memes, that have been shared and transmitted so often that they have become expropriated from any original historical context and are employed to invoke responses, not to cast meaningful light on the “real” Middle Ages. “[E]ven the most unpleasant or extremist ideology can be rendered banal by being shrouded within medievalism, used in an unthinking capacity without direct reference to the Middle Ages.”22 Why do so many viewers cling to the idea of the “whiteness” of the Middle Ages as “historically accurate”? Appeals to “historical accuracy” may appear to be motivated by an objective desire to be true to the historical record but are rarely neutral, being colored by the viewer’s perception of what the historical period being depicted “should” be like. One survey showed that even scholars of the Middle Ages identified stereotypical features such as “muck and dirt” as markers of the realistically medieval in film.23 Conversely, popular perceptions of the past are often shaped more by non-scholarly sources such as historical novels than by academic works,24 leading to a discrepancy between how the Middle Ages are perceived by the viewing public and by academic medievalists. Online users have dubbed this the “Tiffany problem”; the name Tiffany has medieval origins “but if you were to put it in a work of historical fiction, people would complain that it is too modern.”25 Perceptions of what the Middle Ages “ought” to have been like are in turn shaped by the construction of the premodern past as “white” by a modern, white-dominated society. “Chevalier au Canard,” commenting on the Talbot Shrewsbury Book image of Margaret of Anjou, remarked that “the sources we rely on to imagine a golden age of pure ‘historical accuracy’ are often anything but [historically accurate].”26 Similarly, the classicist Sarah Bond has commented on how the Greco-Roman world’s pure, white marble statues, which have become a symbol of Western Civilization,27 are a modern construct (they would originally have been painted in many colors). “To many, the pristine whiteness of marble statues is the expectation and thus the classical ideal. But the equation of white marble with beauty is not an 22 Elliott,

Medievalism, Politics and Mass Media, 17. Vivian Sobchak, “The Insistent Fringe: Moving Images and Historical Consciousness,” History and Theory 36 (1997): 4–20 (6). 24 Jerome De Groot, Remaking History: The Past in Contemporary Historical Fictions (Abingdon: Routledge, 2015), 7. 25 “Ovenbirdkeptic,” “Tiffany Problem,” Behold a Wonder Heere, February 22, 2018, , last accessed July 19, 2018. 26 McKernan, “UKIP Councillor Attempts to Blast BBC.” 27 For example, the far-right group Identity Evropa posts pictures depicting classical statues around US college campuses. Ben Davis, “The New White Nationalism’s Sloppy Use of Art History, Decoded,” ArtNet News, March 7, 2017, , last accessed July 27, 2017. 23


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inherent truth of the universe. Where this standard came from and how it continues to influence white supremacist ideas today are often ignored.”28 As we have seen, politicians from the British far-right parties the BNP and UKIP, and neo-Nazis on the Stormfront website, used the casting of black actors as a touchstone for their anxieties of embattled whiteness threatened by people of color and their “politically-correct” allies. Arguments over the casting of black actors have little to do with the reality of medieval history and more to do with an ideological denial that the European Middle Ages could be anything other than white, which reflects current anxieties over racial and national identity.


Sarah E. Bond, “Why We Need to Start Seeing the Classical World in Color,” Hyperallergic, June 7, 2017, , last accessed July 27, 2017.

Mythogyny: Popular Medievalism and Toxic Masculinity Lauryn Mayer On October 16, 2012, Daryush Valizadeh launched Return of Kings, a website so virulently misogynistic that the Southern Poverty Law Center tracks it on HateWatch.1 Article titles include: “Feminists Are Hysterical About Rape Because No Man Wants to Rape Them,”2 “The Husband is the Head of the Wife,”3 “It’s Time to Bring Back Slut Shaming,”4 and “Women Must Have Their Behavior and Decisions Controlled By Men.”5 When a site-name invites comparison to The Return of the King, the final volume of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, its masthead sports a medieval shield, and Robert Zemeckis’ 2007 Beowulf is cited as “an astounding victory for red pill cinema,”6 we need to do some serious reflection on how popular medievalism, particularly films and TV series with wide audience appeal, helps foster toxic masculinity. Beginning with a short excursus into the general elements of medievalism that encourage misogyny, this essay will explore fantasies 1 2

3 4 5


Southern Poverty Law Center Hate Map, , last accessed July 15, 2018. Len Goddard, “Feminists Are Hysterical About Rape Because No Man Wants to Rape Them,” , last accessed July 18, 2018. Michael Sebastian, “The Husband is the Head of the Wife,” , last accessed July 18, 2018. Nathan Ferguson, “It’s Time to Bring Back Slut Shaming,” , last accessed July 19, 2018. Cyrus Ezra, “Women Must Have Their Behavior and Decisions Controlled By Men,” , last accessed July 17, 2018. Damian Black, “Why the 2007 Remake of Beowulf [sic] Was a Powerful Slap to the Ideals of Liberal Hollywood,” , last accessed August 2, 2018.

Studies in Medievalism XXIX, 2019


Studies in Medievalism

about the Middle Ages that lead to a problematic and reductionist view of masculinity. While medievalism is a notoriously tricky term to define, we can come up with a taxonomy of what makes a particular text medievalist: it makes use of tropes that resonate with what a general audience would recognize as “medieval.” It is a creation of a Middle Ages that intrigues an audience with its elements of unfamiliarity but is built upon a familiar narrative-structure. Present values are projected back into the past, while desirable elements of the Middle Ages are brought forward to meet it. Thus, authenticity does not mean a historically accurate depiction of medieval society; rather, it means what the audience sees as “authentic.” Pam Clements describes a criterion for perceived authenticity: “Does [a medievalist text] create a believable (though obviously fictional) medieval world? This kind of verisimilitude, even as the reader or viewer or player is fully aware of the work’s lack of historical authenticity, can create a sense of authenticity.”7 If historical accuracy is not a criterion, then the sense of authenticity is built not from the work itself, but from the audience’s sense of satisfaction with the work, satisfaction determined by how much the work corresponds with the audience’s fantasies about the Middle Ages, particularly fantasies that validate his/her own values. To give a particularly ugly example of how much the supposed integrity of a text becomes marred when it fails to satisfy audience expectations, we can look at the howls of outrage over the casting choices for the film version of Suzanne Collins’ bestselling novel The Hunger Games. A sizable number of readers who wept over the young, innocent Rue’s death in the novel took to the Internet to express their disgust that a young black actor was cast as Rue. As the compiler of the tweets noted: These people are MAD that the girl that they cried over while reading the book was “some black girl” all along. So now they’re angry. Wasted tears, wasted emotions. It’s sad to think that had they known that she was black all along, there would have been [no] sorrow or sadness over her death [italics mine].8 In fact, Rue is described as “dark” in the book, but readers seem to have edited that out of the text; where the movie supposedly fails is that it refuses to satisfy a racist wish that the pure and innocent, the beloved characters, must necessarily be white. 7

Pam Clements, “Authenticity,” in Medievalism: Key Critical Terms, ed. Elizabeth Emery and Richard Utz (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2014), 19–26 (23). 8 Dodai Smith, “Racist Hunger Games Fans Are Very Disappointed,” , last accessed July 10, 2018.

Popular Medievalism and Toxic Masculinity 23

In looking at popular medievalist texts, we can see two elements of revisionist history at work. First, there exists a desire to locate particular ideologies outside of history by placing them at a sufficiently remote historical period to posit them as trans-historical. Kate the blacksmith’s Nike swoosh in A Knight’s Tale is a sly joke, but it removes corporate culture from its location in a post-capitalist world and reframes it as a long-enduring phenomenon, even while Kate’s creation of the logo recapitulates Nike’s own attempt to brand itself as a champion of female empowerment.9 Second, there is the effort to take ideologies that are under attack in the present and attempt to relocate them (in their most reductionist form) safely in the past, where they can simultaneously exist as compensatory fantasy and as a template to be recovered by present action. In the following section, I will first focus on two general strains of medievalism and their links to misogynistic practices, before turning to three fantasies about the medieval past that foster specific elements of traditional masculinity: the creation of separate spheres for men and the celebration of patriarchy as a path to true manhood. David Matthews aptly points out two main threads of medievalism: “on the one hand, there is what we can call a gothic or grotesque medievalism, entailing the assumption that anything medieval will involve threat, violence, and warped sexuality.”10 He contrasts this with “a romantic Middle Ages,”11 one that contains the threat of violence in the figure of the white knight: “help is at hand in the form of knights, shining armour, and chivalry.”12 These two strands intersect nicely with two strands of misogyny: benevolent and hostile sexism. Benevolent sexism is the attribution of positive qualities to women that nonetheless justify their subordination: graceful and beautiful (but weak) bodies, loving, nurturing, and compassionate temperaments that render them unfit for conflict.13 The coworker who insists on handling the literal or figurative heavy lifting and the male colleague who jumps to a female scholar’s defense before she can make her own arguments both participate in this kind of misogyny. Hostile sexism uses verbal or physical assaults in an attempt to push women out of what is considered male territory or to prove supposedly innate male superiority. Matthews rightly notes that these two strands of medievalism are not mutually exclusive,14 and the reason they are not is because chivalry and 9

A Knight’s Tale, directed by Brian Helgeland, screenplay by Brian Helgeland (2001: Columbia Pictures). 10 David Matthews, Medievalism: A Critical History (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2015), 15. 11 Matthews, Medievalism, 15. 12 Matthews, Medievalism, 15. 13 Lisa Wade and Myra Marx Ferree, Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 2015), 353. 14 Matthews, Medievalism, 15.


Studies in Medievalism

violence towards women both operate under the assumption of feminine inferiority, the same assumption that underlies both benevolent and hostile sexism. The knightly rescuer feels entitled to feminine validation, gratitude, and admiration; if he does not receive it, he may very well react with a display of hostile sexism. Jerry Zucker’s 1995 film First Knight nicely demonstrates this intertwining. In Lancelot and Guinevere’s first meeting, Guinevere escapes from an ambush and kidnapping attempt, only to be run to ground in a field of bracken. Although armed with a small crossbow, she is seized from behind and her arms pinned when Lancelot confronts one of the kidnappers. He tricks the kidnapper by pretending that he was after Guinevere to rape her, waxing eloquent over her “soft skin,” “sweet lips,” and “young, firm body” and suggests that both “take turns” with her. The kidnapper pushes Guinevere over to Lancelot to hold for the first rape, allowing her to turn and shoot him. While Lancelot is treating Guinevere as an object to be raped in order to free her, the objectification itself means that the threat of rape is still present even as he escorts her back to safety.15 Analysis of some of the most popular recent films and TV series reveals three specific fantasies that act as encomia for a traditional model of masculinity associated with the subordination and denigration of the feminine. Fantasy One: The Middle Ages as a Space of Unlimited Potential for the Reestablishment of Traditional Masculinity Michael Kimmel notes the continuous appeal of the frontier as a place where embattled manhood can reclaim its identity and validate itself by either rugged self-sufficiency or conquest. Those who could not make it as selfmade men kept pushing west, and as real frontiers disappeared, fantasy ones took their place.16 In early medieval Robin Hood ballads, the space of the greenwood is an Eden for the dispossessed: In somer, when the shawes be sheyne And leves be larege and long, Hit is ful mery in feyre foreste To here the fouys song To se the dere draw to the dale And leve the hilles hee 15

First Knight, directed by Jerry Zucker, screenplay by Lorne Cameron and David Hoselton (1995, Columbia Pictures). 16 Michael Kimmel, Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era (New York: Nation Books, 2017), 20.

Popular Medievalism and Toxic Masculinity 25 And shadow hem in the leves grene, Under the grene wode tre. (“Robin Hood and the Monk”)17 [In summer, when the woods are bright, And leaves are large and long, It is very merry in the fair forest To hear the birds’ song. To see the deer draw to the dale, And leave the high hills, And shelter themselves in the green leaves, Under the green wood tree.]

As Stephen Knight and Thomas Ohlgren argue: Set as they are in forests close to towns and resisting consistently what are felt to be the incursive forces represented by sheriff, abbot, and the urban market, these ballads clearly value the natural, the communal, and what is felt to be the organic against aspects of the new centralizing and legislating world.18 It is also, however, the world of the self-made man: those with the skill to hunt (as the reference to “dere” implies) will have the means to sustain themselves, as is shown when Robin treats an impoverished knight to a feast. In addition to the ever-present venison, the guests gorge on forest bounty: “Swannes and fessauntes they had full gode/And foules of the ryvere;/There fayled none so litell a bird/That ever was bred on bryre.”19 The life of freedom and self-sufficiency is reiterated over and over in contemporary Robin Hood narratives. Kevin Reynolds’ 1991 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves pits the sun-dappled beauty of the forest against the sinister darkness of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s stronghold. The natural materials of the forest provide the means for Robin Hood’s band to rig ingenious traps for the corrupt rich and screens for the band’s protection.20 Ridley Scott’s 17

“Robin Hood and The Monk,” in Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales, ed. Stephen Knight and Thomas Ohlgren (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997), 31–56 (37) (translation mine). 18 Stephen Knight and Thomas Ohlgren, “General Introduction, ” Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales, 1–17 (8). 19 “A Gest of Robyn Hode,” in Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales, 80–168 (94). “Very good swans and pheasants they had/And birds of the riverbank/There lacked not the smallest bird/That ever was bred on branch.” “A Gest of Robyn Hode,” in Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales, 94 (translation mine). 20 Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, directed by Kevin Reynolds, screenplay by Pen Densham (1991: Warner Brothers).


Studies in Medievalism

2010 Robin Hood ends with Robin’s band living in a paradise of communal brotherhood and self-sufficiency, where all can be fed from “nature’s table.”21 The BBC’s 2006 series of the same name makes stark visual contrast between the crackling communal fires around which Robin’s men roast a plentiful supply of meat with the gray grimness of the towns and the gaunt faces of their inhabitants. In one striking scene, Allan a Dale provides the starving wife and child he left behind with a gift of fish and fowl, proof that the forest has more than enough for their own wants and can supply a village stricken by aristocratic predation. Allan a Dale and his men rediscover their masculinity by being able to provide for the families they left behind as outlaws.22 If the greenwood provides one frontier for the recovering traditional masculinity, the field of conquest and battle provides another: the ability to free oneself from servility and dependence upon an older and flawed male culture by literally carving out a path to manhood, proving oneself the real embodiment of patriarchal authority. John McTiernan’s 1999 film The 13th Warrior reframes the travels of tenth-century ambassador Ahmen Ibn Fahdlan, sent by the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad to the court of the Bulgars. The historical Ibn Fahdlan recounted his meetings with Vikings in 922; the movie uses this account and intertwines it with the plot of Beowulf; in this version Ibn Fahdlan is conscripted as a necessary thirteenth warrior to fight the marauding Wendol. Ibn Fahdlan is initially no match for the hypermasculine Vikings, symbolically represented by the fact that he is too weak to lift one of their swords. By adopting their customs and attitudes, however, he manages to redeem himself in the battle and forges a new identity for himself as a warrior.23 The BBC 2006 series Vikings deploys this fantasy as well. In the series’ opening episode, Ragnar Lothrok is simply a farmer who partakes in the summer raids when he happens upon a navigation instrument that will allow passage over the open sea to the rich lands of the west. When he proposes the expedition to the autocratic and aging Earl Haraldson, the earl attempts to put him in his place: “Remember that you are a farmer.”24 Lothrok collects enough resources to commission an ocean-worthy vessel and shames other reluctant raiders into accompanying him on a forbidden journey west: “Who has the balls to come with me?”25 The raid is successful, and the men of the 21 22 23 24 25

Robin Hood, directed by Ridley Scott, screenplay by Brian Helgelund (2010: Universal Pictures). Robin Hood, created by Dominic Minghella and Foz Allen (2006: Tiger Aspect Productions for BBC1). The 13th Warrior, directed by John McTiernan, screenplay by William Wisher (1999: Touchstone Pictures). “Rites of Passage,” Vikings: Season 1, created by Michael Hirst (2013: Twentieth Century Fox). “Wrath of the Northmen,” Vikings: Season 1.

Popular Medievalism and Toxic Masculinity 27

returning group are heralded as heroes by the community, to the wrath of Earl Haraldson. Haraldson then harasses Lothrok and burns his farm, driving him and his family into hiding. Lothrok challenges the earl to single combat, kills him, and takes his place as leader. While this may seem like a simple internecine clash, Haraldson’s musings the night before make it clear to the audience that Lothrok is more fit to lead because of his frontier ambitions and exploits: “He is someone for whom I have the utmost respect. He is what I used to be: ambitious, reckless.”26 Fictional or not, the medievalist frontier serves its male audience as a sacred space of masculine redemption. Far from simply being “escapist” fantasy, these texts escape time itself. As Angela Jane Weisl argues when discussing modern pilgrimage sites like Graceland: “In the believer’s moment of contact, time either moves from linear to connectiveness, as past and present come together, or it appears to stand still, resonating in the moment.”27 The believer, in this case, is one of the faithful whose creed is that of traditional masculinity, and in the vertical sacred time of the medievalist text, he finds himself reassured of the transcendence of this ideology. It is no accident that the protagonists of this frontier fantasy are those who find themselves dispossessed by the consolidation of power in the hands of others; their audience since the 1980s has been one whose ability to achieve financial security and status has been steadily eroding since that time, victims of exponentially increasing economic inequity, downsizing, outsourcing of labor, and the erosion of the middle class. Unlike the “fair unknown” of medieval romance whose virtue and valor are later proved to spring from his aristocratic lineage (a move that naturalizes these traits as inherently aristocratic), the hero of the medievalist frontier is from the first at odds with those in power. Even the medievalist narratives that give Robin Hood an aristocratic lineage quickly sever him from his legacy. Fantasy Two: The Middle Ages is a World of Men There is definitely something happening with American men – they are searching for something, searching for some place where they can feel like real men again, some place unpolluted by the presence of those others, a pure homosocial clubhouse, locker room, talking circle. (Kimmel)28 If they met aboard some unidentified flying saucer near Montaillou, would Darth Vader, Jacques Fornier, and Parsifal speak the same 26 “Raid,”

Vikings: Season 1. Angela Jane Weisl, The Persistence of Medievalism: Narrative Adventures in Contemporary Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 19. 28 Kimmel, Angry White Men, 16. 27


Studies in Medievalism

language? If so, would it be a galactic pidgin or the Latin of the Gospel according to St. Luke Skywalker? (Umberto Eco)29 Eco’s speculation about the lingua franca in this medievalist encounter points up the underlying tropes and narrative desires linking medieval and medievalist texts. In one respect, this speculation about their languages is a moot point: on the flying saucer, this is a world of men. Princess Leia, Christine de Pisan, and Joan of Arc have been left behind, and the men on board already have a common language in their shared assumptions about gender roles. Just as the medievalist frontier provides a space for a male audience to reclaim fantasies of self-sufficiency and class mobility, medievalist homosocial space provides a refuge for that same audience, a world in which patriarchal assumptions can go unchallenged and men can compete for status and resources without the threat of female incursion. Women are allowed, of course, but their presence usually only serves to reinforce the values of the patriarchy. This phenomenon usually manifests itself in one of three ways. First, women’s contributions to the medievalist community economy are largely invisible. While we may see the occasional aristocratic woman weaving or embroidering, most female presence in medievalist texts falls under the following categories: downtrodden female villagers (usually victims of starvation, rape, or both), women as professional prostitutes, tavern wenches, or camp followers, or decorative symbols of female privilege. These categories superimpose images of female passivity and sexual availability over the thriving world of female brewers, millers, artisans, guild members, and members of female religious communities in the Middle Ages. The chief value of women in this medievalist community is their ability to bear sons. The BBC series Vikings takes this assignment of value to the level of absurdity: after his wife, Lagertha, has a miscarriage, Ragnar Lothrok takes up with another woman, Aslaug, and impregnates her after one night of intercourse. Once she is found to be fertile, Lothrok shrugs off Lagertha’s divorce from him and marries Aslaug. Almost all of the subsequent scenes with Aslaug and Ragnar show him with his head pressed against Aslaug’s distended belly, speaking to his future sons. Aslaug herself has no more value than as a vessel for Ragnar’s male heirs.30 Second, women’s agency in this world is usually either severely qualified or portrayed as dangerous to male homosocial structures. In Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, the two most powerful women on screen are Eleanor of Aquitaine and Marion Loxley. The former, arguably the most formidable medieval queen 29

Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality, trans. William Weaver (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Jovanovich, 1986), 58. 30 “Brother’s War,” Vikings: Season 2.

Popular Medievalism and Toxic Masculinity 29

in the twelfth century, is helpless to control her incompetent son’s misrule; the latter falls into the problematic category of the “strong female character” (note how the terminology itself reveals its ideological underpinning). She wields a sword while defending Nottingham against the predatory French pillagers, and even dons armor to ride in disguise with the English troops defending the beaches from the French invading forces. However, in a film where the lead male characters almost invariably emerge unscathed from the most violent conflicts, Marion tackles her father’s killer on the beach and only gets in one blow before being knocked into the waves. Robin must save her from drowning; a long shot shows him carrying the helpless Marion to safety. Our last glimpse of Marion is that of the proxy mother to the group of greenwood orphans in training to become future outlaws. When women do hold power over men, they are cast as monstrous for wielding that power. Nowhere is this better seen than in contemporary retellings of the epic Beowulf: Graham Baker’s 1991 film version and the more recent version directed by Robert Zemeckis. In the poem, Grendel’s mother is a formidable and very human force, taking direct eye-for-an-eye revenge on Hrothgar’s chief thane, Aeschere, and even leaving his head at the entrance of the mere (the hell-lake where Grendel’s mother lives) as a pointed rebuke for the nailing of Grendel’s arm to the entrance of Heorot (the imposing hall of the Spear-Danes). A wily fighter, she is able to pin down and almost kill Beowulf. Grendel’s mother may be the kin of Cain, but she is accorded respect for her motives and abilities. Not so in the film versions. Baker’s Beowulf dispatches Grendel quickly, and then confronts Grendel’s mother for the first time. Our first full glimpse of Grendel’s mother shows the voluptuous, half-naked Layla Roberts (Playboy’s Playmate of the Month for October 1997). She originally tries to seduce him into joining her, but when rejected, literally turns into a scorpion-like horror. The message is clear: a powerful woman is an unthinkable paradox; Grendel’s mother must transform into the monstrous in order to fight.31 In the same vein, The 13th Warrior’s cannibalistic Wendol tribe is ruled by a woman, and the normally unflappable Vikings react with visceral fear and disgust when faced with statuettes honoring her. In both cases, female power and agency are threats to the social order and must be destroyed; Zemeckis’ Beowulf makes it clear what the costs are of allowing this threat to go unchallenged: the seduction of Hrothgar by Grendel’s mother results in the birth of Grendel himself. Upon Grendel’s death, his mother outdoes the poem’s eye-for-an-eye revenge by turning Heorot into an abattoir. Beowulf wakes up to see Geats and Danes gutted and strung up from the rafters, although the film’s own refusal to give women agency does not allow the viewer to see 31

Beowulf, directed by Graham Baker, screenplay by Mark Leahy and David Chappe (1999; 2000: Buena Vista).


Studies in Medievalism

the attack, only the aftermath. Wading into the mere to confront Grendel’s mother, the audience is allowed to see her whole for the first time: a naked, gold-covered avatar of Angelina Jolie who seems to have stilettos grown onto her feet. She seduces Beowulf, who then breaks host/guest relations and betrays his own men by falsely claiming to have killed her. History then repeats itself when the offspring of Beowulf and Grendel’s mother, a dragon, comes backs, destroys Heorot, and mortally wounds Beowulf before Beowulf manages to kill him. Beowulf names the loyal and pragmatic Wiglaf as his heir, and order appears to have been restored. However, the film ends with a mourning Wiglaf staring at the sea when Grendel’s mother slowly emerges from the waves and locks eyes with Wiglaf, who is clearly her next victim.32 The seductive power of uncontrolled women thus becomes an ever-present threat to male hegemony. Fantasy Three: The Middle Ages is a World for Men If we can define patriarchy as a social system in which behaviors coded as masculine are valued over those coded as feminine, and in which men hold most of the political power and social authority, then it would be very different to locate a society that is not patriarchal, be it tenth-century Wessex, fourteenth-century Italy, or the United States in the twenty-first century. However, many medievalist texts portray a Middle Ages of totalizing and transcendent patriarchy, where the ability of men to wield power does not depend on era, region, community dynamics, or intersecting hierarchies such as race, religion, class, or ability; the erasure of powerful women, women’s work, and women’s communities in these texts only underscores this fantasy, making each man, in Robin Longstride’s words, “a king in his own castle.”33 Medievalism, as we have noted, provides dispossessed men with fantasies of community and self-sufficiency, but does so by rendering women relatively invisible and powerless, clearing the field for masculine conquest and control and reassuring a male audience of its inherent superiority. By framing most of its women as either vessels to bear sons or objects to be raped, it lends itself too willingly as a compensatory dream for men who feel robbed of their masculinity by any advances made in women’s rights. In a zero-sum mentality, any gain by women must be a corresponding loss for men, and their rage at losing what they perceive they are entitled to leads them to wish for a past in which they had absolute control. As Kimmel notes:


Beowulf, directed by Robert Zemeckis, screenplay by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary (2007: Paramount Pictures). 33 Robin Hood, dir. Ridley Scott.

Popular Medievalism and Toxic Masculinity 31 Aggrieved entitlement can mobilize one politically, but it is often a mobilization towards the past, not the future, to restore that which one feels one has lost. It invariably distorts one’s vision and leads to a misdirected anger – often at those just below you on the ladder, because clearly they deserve what they are getting far less than you.34

It takes only a cursory look at some examples to see how medievalism plays to this fantasy of control. Wiglaf (the assigned voice of reason in the film) frets over the amount of “untended women” in Heorot (Beowulf, Zemeckis); the aging Walter Loxley insists that he is still the master of his household despite his infirmities before handing his daughter over to Robin Longstride (Robin Hood, Scott); Marion’s father publicly dismisses her advice: “My daughter speaks when she should not” (Robin Hood, Minghella). In A Song of Ice and Fire, the text makes clear that Brienne has adopted life as a warrior only because she is too ugly to fulfill her real role as a wife and mother; the taunting phrase “A Beauty!” as she defeats Ser Loras is meant to remind her of her failure to compete in a more feminine realm.35 An embittered Beowulf renounces his bedmate, telling her to “find a good man and bear him children. But bear him sons” (Beowulf, Zemeckis). The underlying messages (women should be used; women should be valued only as sexual objects and breeders; women should be under the control of a man) paint the medieval past as a lost patriarchal paradise that must be reclaimed to counter men’s perceived losses of power and control. It is too easy to dismiss these medievalist texts as merely escapist entertainment, or to cling to the handful of “strong female characters” as a sign of hope for a sea change in popular conceptions of the Middle Ages. Film by film, episode by episode, these fantasies are being more deeply rooted in the popular consciousness, and they are providing a foundational myth for some of the darkest elements of the antifeminist movement.

34 Kimmel, 35

Angry White Men, 24. George R. R. Martin, A Clash of Kings (New York: Bantam Books, 2011), 344.

The Cool and the Queer in Bugs Bunny’s Middle Ages Tison Pugh In his many time-traveling adventures, Bugs Bunny frequently resides in or returns to the chivalric landscape of the Middle Ages – and is always unimpressed. It is, in his dismissive assessment, a “booby hatchery” (“Knight-mare Hare,” 1955).1 For this avatar of American cool, the past stands not as a lost Golden Age of idealized romance but as a madcap landscape similar to those of his contemporary adventures: a backdrop against which a pursuit unfolds, with his determined but hapless antagonists finding themselves stymied in their every effort to defeat this rascally rabbit. Bugs’s coolness – as evident in his catchphrases, his metacommentary on the cartoons’ narrative action, and his gender play – assists him in transcending the snares of the Middle Ages. His coolness also accentuates the queerness of other characters enacting outdated gender roles, whether those of the past or of the present. Bugs Bunny’s every action displays his mid-century American coolness, which he models through a constant air of detachment, irony, and unflappability. Bob Clampett, who directed dozens of Looney Tunes cartoons in the 1930s and 1940s, ventriloquized his understanding of the character: “Some people call me cocky and brash, but actually I’m just self-assured. I’m nonchalant, imperturbable, contemplative. I play it cool.”2 Coolness emerged as a distinct mode of self-performance in the twentieth century, as Peter Stearns documents in his definitive study of this style: “Being a cool character means conveying an air of disengagement, of nonchalance […]. Cool has become an emotional mantle, sheltering the whole personality from embarrassing


Bugs Bunny’s cartoons are available in The Looney Tunes Golden Collection, 6 vols., (Burbank, CA: Warner Bros., 2003–08), DVD. 2 Bob Clampett, qtd. in Joe Adamson, Bugs Bunny: Fifty Years and Only One Grey Hare (New York: Donald Hutter, 1990), 17. Studies in Medievalism XXIX, 2019


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excess.”3 Even when he is hounded, hunted, and harassed, Bugs Bunny may lose his temper, he may explode in an emotional outburst, but he rarely loses his cool. By the conclusion of virtually every cartoon in his animated canon, he has controlled the antic situation and ultimately won the upper hand through his never-failing ingenuity. Bugs may occasionally lose a matchup against an adversary – such as when Cecil Turtle and his allies outwit him in a rematch of Aesop’s classic turtle-versus-hare race (“Tortoise Beats Hare,” 1941; see also “Rabbit Transit,” 1947) – but he typically remains coolly in control even in defeat. Bugs Bunny’s most famous catchphrase – “What’s up, doc?” – ­continually underscores his unruffled reaction to a range of perilous situations. His secondary trademark-quips similarly reveal his calm nonchalance, which is evident in his measured response to an antagonist’s escalating aggressions: “Of course, you know, this means war,” he pronounces with steely precision (e.g., “Easter Yeggs,” 1947; “Long-Haired Hare,” 1949; “Bully for Bugs,” 1953). In one of the cartoons’ many running gags, Bugs finds himself lost – “I knew I should’ve taken that left turn at Albuquerque,” he remarks – but no wrong turn leaves him discombobulated for long (e.g., “Bully for Bugs”; “My Bunny Lies over the Sea,” 1948). In moments of self-reflection, Bugs occasionally queries, “Gee, ain’t I a stinker?,” but he rarely regrets his calculated ploys against his foes (e.g., “A Hare Grows in Manhattan,” 1947; “The Big Snooze,” 1946). Coolness is not conducive to sympathy, as his various catchphrases and his merciless humiliations of his foes collectively demonstrate. Bugs Bunny’s coolness also reflects his understanding of the codes of the cartoons in which he stars, as evident in his metacommentary on their unfolding action. “I do this kind of stuff to him all through the picture,” he wisecracks while leading Elmer Fudd off a cliff (“Wabbit Twouble,” 1941). Elmer realizes that he is foredoomed to ignominious defeat in his encounters with his leporine adversary, and he rightly complains, “I get the worst of it from that rabbit in every one of these cartoons”; he tears up the studio contract but soon regrets his decision and pieces together the shredded document, with Bugs Bunny proclaiming of his foe, “I love that man!” (“The Big Snooze”). Truly, not even death can foreclose Bugs’s eternal coolness, owing to these cartoons’ metanarrative construction. When Elmer, in the role of the mythic hero Siegfried, summons a thunderstorm that apparently kills Bugs, he immediately repents and carries the rabbit away in his arms, only for Bugs to wake from death and to correct the audience: “Well, what did you expect in an opera? A happy ending?” (“What’s Opera, Doc?,” 1957). Both narrative and metanarrative constructions of Bugs’s coolness – the “knowing wink” of his storylines and his performances – enable the audience to enjoy 3

Peter Stearns, American Cool: Constructing a Twentieth-Century Emotional Style (New York: New York University Press, 1994), 1.

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the animated antics afoot, as one can never doubt the character’s ultimate triumph. Complementing his coolness, Bugs Bunny’s gender play suggests his protean adaptability to a range of identities. The World War II era upended longstanding stereotypes of Western gender, particularly as women found employment in factories while men fought overseas. This reality is noted in several Looney Tunes films, such as when in “Little Red Riding Rabbit” (1944) – an obvious adaptation of the fairytale “Little Red Riding Hood” – the Grandmother character leaves a note on her door informing potential visitors that she is “Working swing shift at Lockheed.” One of the most popular tropes of the Looney Tunes corpus is cross-dressing, and Bugs Bunny frequently disguises himself as various incarnations of femininity: southern belle (“Mississippi Hare,” 1949; “Southern Fried Rabbit,” 1953); devoted fan (“Long-Haired Hare”); Spanish señorita (“Rabbit of Seville,” 1940); department-store patron (“Hare Conditioner,” 1945); ballerina (“A Corny Concerto,” 1943); and elderly woman (“Hare Do,” 1948), among many, many more. Concerning the character’s gender play, Charles M. Young famously proposed that Bugs Bunny represents “the yearning for psychological health, the unity of opposites, the polymorphous perverse.”4 Bugs Bunny’s core character relies on improvisation, on the possibility of credibly enacting someone or something other than who he is, throughout his rampaging adventures. Eric Savoy, observing the rabbit’s uncanny ability to signify both inside and outside the unfolding plots of destructive desire, theorizes that “Bugs Bunny’s agency [is] located somewhere outside conventional economies of desire: indeed, his persistent ability to queer the pitch of signification suggests that the rabbit is always already queer.”5 Yet to identify perversity and queerness in Bugs Bunny’s resistant strategies requires a deeper contextualization and questioning of these terms, particularly if we accept the premise that queerness circulates around and against erotic marginalization. For example, Cathy J. Cohen proposes, “At the intersection of oppression and resistance lies the radical potential of queerness to challenge and bring together all those deemed marginal and all those committed to liberatory politics.”6 From this perspective, it becomes apparent that it is impossible either to marginalize or to liberate this rascally rabbit, and thus it is difficult to label him queer, for he eludes any such binary of ideological Othering. Closer to the mark, Kevin Sandler suggests that the 4

Charles M. Young, “Orcytolagus Cuniculus – a.k.a. Bugs Bunny,” The Village Voice (December 29, 1975): 126. 5 Eric Savoy, “The Signifying Rabbit,” Narrative 3.2 (1995): 188–209 (191). 6 Cathy J. Cohen, “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?,” in The Routledge Queer Studies Reader, ed. Donald Hall and Annamarie Jagose (London: Routledge, 2013), 74–95 (76).


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Bugs Bunny corpus “foregrounds the socially constructed nature of gender difference and subjects it to comment: what appears natural cannot help but reveal itself as artifice.”7 Similarly, Robert McEachern proposes that “rather than allowing a transcendence of gender dichotomies, cross-dressing Bugs Bunny films reinforce the role of masculinity, precisely because they offer no gender dichotomies to move beyond.”8 The primacy of masculinity that McEachern identifies is evident in the fact that Bugs inhabits a primarily homosocial world, in which his antagonists are mostly males, including such standard foes as Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, and Daffy Duck, as well as such occasional adversaries as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (“Hyde and Hare,” 1955) and other errant mad scientists (“Water, Water, Every Hare,” 1952). Within this male world, Bugs must occasionally fend off a female adversary such as Witch Hazel (e.g., “Broom-stick Bunny,” 1956), but his romantic interests – which should be a key indicator of the character’s potential ­queerness – lean decidedly toward the normative, even as much as we must question what can be considered “normative” in a world populated by talking rabbits, ducks, and pigs. “Bugs Bunny Rides Again” (1948) stresses the heteroerotic, if interspecies, nature of Bugs’s amatory pursuits. In this violent Wild West narrative, he tricks Yosemite Sam onto a train departing from town, discovers it is populated with bathing beauties traveling to Miami, and then successfully maneuvers to switch places with his foe. As the cartoon concludes, he cries out, “So long, Sammy, see you in Miami,” while displaying the many lipstick kisses on his head. In other instances, the humor of an episode hinges on Bugs’s anti-eroticism, such as when Elmer Fudd receives a Slobovian rabbit named Millicent from his uncle, who will pay him $500 to take care of her. Elmer therefore encourages Bugs to romance Millicent, and Millicent willingly agrees. “Give to me large kiss,” she demands in her Eastern European accent, but Bugs offers a range of substitutes to ward off her advances, including a goldfish and an electric fan, as he also admonishes her, “Women don’t chase men in America” (“Rabbit Romeo,” 1957). A cartoon world embraces an intriguing world of unexpected romance, and Bugs occasionally finds himself attracted to surprising partners, including a mechanical lure in the likeness of a female rabbit designed to entice greyhounds to chase after it (“The Grey Hounded Hare,” 1949). Whether human bathingbeauties, an overweight and demanding Slobovian rabbit, or a mechanical representation of a rabbit, Bugs’s potential romantic partners stress the heteroerotic nature of his attractions. Furthermore, Bugs may occasionally 7

Kevin Sandler, “Gendered Evasion: Bugs Bunny in Drag,” in Reading the Rabbit: Explorations in Warner Bros. Animation, ed. Kevin Sandler (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1998), 154–71 (170). 8 Robert McEachern, “Gender Twouble: Bugs Bunny, Cross-Dressing, and Patriarchy,” The Mid-Atlantic Almanac 3 (1994): 1–12 (2).

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play queer, such as when he queens it up as a hairdresser for Rudolph, a red, furry monster in a Frankenstein-inspired storyline: “My stars, where did you get that awful hairdo? It doesn’t become you at all” (“Water, Water, Every Hare”). Looking at such instances collectively, Bugs may exploit queerness to advance his strategies, yet his unflappable cool, for the most part, aligns with his erotic attraction to a range of characters coded female. Bugs’s adventures in the medieval past include the shorts “Rabbit Hood” (1949), “Knights Must Fall” (1949), “Knight-mare Hare,” “Knighty Knight Bugs” (1958) – the only Bugs Bunny cartoon honored with an Academy Award (Best Animated Short, 1959) – and “Prince Varmint” (1961). Several other adventures, although not explicitly medieval in their setting, similarly transport him to a classical or simply ill-defined past, or allude to medieval narratives in their titles, including “Buccaneer Bunny” (1948), “Rabbit of Seville,” “Roman Legion-Hare” (1955), “Ali Baba Bunny” (1957), “What’s Opera, Doc?,” and “Hare-Abian Nights” (1959). The plots of these shorts resemble those of his modern adventures, in which Bugs must outmaneuver an enemy or enemies, often by hoisting them on their own petards. In “Rabbit Hood,” Bugs, attempting to steal a carrot from the king’s carrot patch, clashes with the Sheriff of Nottingham, even tricking him into building the sheriff’s dream home in the king’s rose gardens and then, impersonating the king, clubbing the sheriff with his scepter. In “Knights Must Fall,” Bugs’s chief adversary is not Sir Lancelot but Sir Pantsalot, whom he dispatches through ever-increasing acts of medieval violence. “Knight-mare Hare” begins with Bugs reading Tales of Knighthood and Gallantry, languidly sitting in a hairdrying chair until an apple falls on his head, and he awakes to find himself transported into the medieval past. Meeting his first foe, the Black Knight, Bugs puns on his famous line – “Eh, what’s up, Duke?” – and is threatened, “Surrender, varlet, thou art the prisoner of my lance.” He vanquishes first the Black Knight by tripping his horse, then a fire-breathing dragon by spraying it with a seltzer-water sprayer, and finally “Merlin of Monroe” by conjuring him into a horse, before returning to the present day. “Knighty Knight Bugs” depicts King Arthur addressing his court – “Noble Knights of the Round Table, ever since the accursed Black Knight captured our singing sword, evil times hath befallen us” – with the cowardly Sir Osis of Liver wailing, “The Black Knight has a fire-breathing dragon!” Bugs, in his role as court jester, agrees – “Only a fool would go after the singing sword” – and so the king sends him on the quest against the Black Knight/Yosemite Sam. In “Prince Varmint,” Yosemite Sam is recast as Sam the Terrible, a Viking invader, and Bugs Bunny decides, “I suppose I’ll have to dispose of the little monster”; he bribes Sam’s accomplice, an elephant, with peanuts, and the elephant chases the antagonist away. Bugs Bunny’s medieval shorts share numerous motifs, such as the notoriously bad puns that constitute much of their humor. In “Rabbit Hood,”


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Bugs’s violent knighting ceremony for the Sheriff of Nottingham unleashes a cavalcade of puns, including “Sir Loin of Beef,” “Baron of Munchausen,” “Milk of Magnesia,” and “Quarter of Ten.” In “Knight-Mare Hare,” more such medieval puns and verbal humor abound: “Sir Oh of Kay,” “Earl of Watercress,” “Sir Osis of the Liver,” “Knight of the Garter,” and “Baron of Wooster-cester-shister-shyster-schuster-schuster-shiste-shire.” Yet such puns afford more than the opportunity for quick laughs, as they allow Bugs to bring his brash style of American coolness to the past. In “Knight-Mare Hare,” he lists his friends, riffing on the names of African-American jazz musicians: Duke of Ellington, Count of Basie, Earl of Hines, Cab of Calloway, Satchmo of Armstrong. Against the mostly white backdrop of so many of his adventures, Bugs Bunny’s journey to the medieval past offers the punning opportunity to show his appreciation of black culture, and he also threatens the Black Knight: “Look, Sir Rup of Figs, don’t go around insulting my friends, or I shall get me a can opener and open thee up like a can of solid pack tomatoes.” Given the casual racism of some of Bugs’s adventures in contemporary America, his citation and defense of African-American entertainers in the medieval past demonstrates the ways in which time does not march uniformly into a more progressive future. To accentuate Bugs Bunny’s infallibly cool performance, the medieval cartoons deploy Errol Flynn as a touchstone of modern cinematic masculinity. Flynn, known for such medieval and swashbuckling adventures as Captain Blood (1935), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and Crossed Swords (1954), serves as an appropriate real-life foil for Bugs, for both the actor and the cartoon character evince a similar jaunty coolness. In “Knights Must Fall,” when the crowd boos Bugs as he prepares to joust with the haughty Sir Pantsalot, Bugs wisecracks, “You’re expecting maybe Errol Flynn?,” as he then proves himself Flynn’s equal in dispatching his antagonist. In “Rabbit Hood,” a tubby and dimwitted Little John proclaims several times, “Don’t you worry, never fear, Robin Hood will soon be here” – only for Robin Hood to fail to arrive. As the cartoon concludes, Robin Hood finally appears, through a live-action shot of Errol Flynn calling out, “Welcome to Sherwood.” Bugs, shocked, denies what he sees: “No, that’s silly. It couldn’t be him.” It is indeed Flynn, but as the preceding storyline has demonstrated, Flynn’s Robin Hood is unnecessary in a comic landscape where Bugs can successfully outwit any foe. Of course, Bugs is often preferred over a range of Hollywood actors, such as when Elmer Fudd plays a celebrated Vaudeville star and passes by Al Jolson and Bing Crosby to choose the rabbit as his sidekick (“What’s Up, Doc?,” 1950), testifying to the transtemporal appeal of his coolness. As Bugs Bunny’s coolness stands as his defining characteristic, his adventures in the medieval past demonstrate how this coolness relies on queering his adversaries rather than on any inherent queerness in himself, even when

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the plot focuses determinedly on a man’s posterior. The opening scenes of “Knights Must Fall” depict Bugs’s desire to treat Sir Pantsalot’s rear end as a trash dispensary for uneaten carrot tops. Developing this theme, Bugs pokes Sir Pantsalot in the posterior with a needle, and after the final climatic battle, he stands triumphant as “The Smiling Rabbit: Dealer in Used Armor” amid a veritable junkyard of discarded gear. He can now dispose of his carrot top in the rear of a suit of armor, as he did to Sir Pantsalot in the cartoon’s opening. Is a cartoon rabbit jabbing a knight in the posterior with a needle a parody of sodomy? Such a reading might appear to overinterpret this act of comic violence, but Bugs employs a similar tactic in “Bunny Hugged” (1951), in which he works as the mascot for the wrestler Ravishing Ronald, whom the announcer tellingly refers to as a “denatured boy.” Overt references to homosexuality are rather rare in the Looney Tunes catalog, but occasional lines, such as when Yosemite Sam enters a Wild West saloon and shouts, “And I ain’t no namby-pamby” (“Bugs Bunny Rides Again”), alert viewers to the ways in which queer themes are adumbrated in the purportedly innocent and kid-friendly world of mid-century American animation. Bugs deploys queerness in the medieval world of Sir Pantsalot as he does in the modern world of “Bunny Hugged”: to demonstrate the inherent folly of attempting to outwit him, as he always keeps several steps ahead in the machinations afoot. In his adventures set in the past, Bugs’s American coolness refuses to recognize the mores of yesteryear, yet his adversaries face the likelihood of the queer effects of time. Certainly, Bugs’s coolness includes a knowledge of the literary past of the Renaissance, as evident in his (mis)quotation of Richard Lovelace’s “To Althea, from Prison,” as he taunts his adversary, “Iron bars do not a prison make ... but they sure help, aye, doc?” (“Acrobatty Bunny,” 1946).9 In this telling moment of literary allusion, Bugs deploys the past incorrectly yet still prevails in his objective to vanquish his antagonists, proving once again the meta-cartoon truth that the audience recognizes: this rabbit can bend time, history, and narrative to his purposes. It should be noted as well that Bugs’s coolness is rooted in and advances the values of the United States. In “Knighty Knight Bugs,” Bugs’s strategies result in the dragon that guards the singing sword sneezing in a tower armory; the tower then lifts off and now resembles a rocket, testifying to this patriotic rabbit’s contribution to the space race and the victories that can be achieved against America’s contemporary adversaries. Bugs Bunny’s journeys in the Middle Ages demonstrate the inherent superiority and queering force of American cool over medieval values, even the most romanticized value of chivalry. Chivalry rarely appears in the Bugs 9

Lovelace’s poem reads, “Stone Walls doe not a Prison make,/Nor I’ron bars a Cage”; see Richard Lovelace, “To Althea, from Prison,” in The Poems of Richard Lovelace, ed. C. H. Wilkinson (Oxford: Clarendon, 1930), 78–9, lines 25–6.


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Bunny Middle Ages, yet in an intriguing irony, Bugs espouses this virtue in one of his modern-day adventures, “Mississippi Hare.” “Chivalry ain’t dead,” chirps Bugs, and in this short feature, he dons female apparel in his battle against Colonel Shuffle, a poker-playing southern dynamo resembling a cross between Yosemite Sam and Colonel Sanders. Bugs relies on the chivalry of a by-standing southern gentleman to defend “herself” from Colonel Shuffle’s attacks, but this helpful gentleman receives quite an eyeful when Bugs’s dress is torn and he espies a bunny’s tail instead of a woman’s buttocks. This scene, a cartoon precursor to Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game (1992), hangs on the comic effect of a bunny’s tail signifying the queer pitfalls of chivalry, leading men to confront the possibility of bestial desires, even if their eventual response, like this unnamed chivalric figure’s, is simply to walk off the paddlewheel boat into the muddy waters of the Mississippi. “Oh, well, we almost had a romantic ending,” wisecracks Bugs, but in this instance, chivalry demands the performance of an increasingly impossible masculinity, one which, in the end, even an impish bunny can demolish with a quick, queering twitch of his cottontail. The “Rabbit of Seville” features a similar bunny tail scene, in which Elmer Fudd realizes that an entrancing señorita merely disguises his frequent foe, with the next round of violence soon erupting. Bunny tails, in this and so many other instances, are queering, not queer. These twitches and other such emasculating moments testify to the protean force of American cool, which conquers all medieval and transtemporal manifestations of resistance to the rabbit who embodies it. Considering the queerness of Bugs Bunny’s Middle Ages, then, we are left with the vision of a comic landscape ripe for the ridicule of American coolness, and woe to the animated adversary who unthinkingly tries to adapt medieval values to the modern world.

Medievalism, Antisemitism, and TwentyFirst-Century Media: An Update Richard Utz It is a well-established fact that medieval anti-Jewish narratives have served as anchors for modern and contemporary antisemitic propaganda and actions.1 The social, political, and cultural consequences of medieval Christianity’s ill-fated conflict with its own Jewish origins survived or were all too easily rekindled across centuries and continents in multiple layers of interconnected reception. For this “update” on the continuities between medieval Jew-hatred and contemporary antisemitism, I am not interested in the specific causes that led to medieval Christians’ creation of anti-Judaism as a constitutive element of their identity. Similarly, I am not interested in the specific conditions that brought back to life medieval narratives to substantiate early modern and modern examples of religiocentric and ethnocentric accusations and attacks. Rather, I will claim that the advent of digital and social media since the 1990s has foundationally changed the conditions according to which medieval narratives are used to spread contemporary antisemitic views. Two recent investigations into the history and development of medievalism provide the framework for my claim.


For the purposes of this essay, I distinguish with Steven Beller (Antisemitism: A Very Short Introduction [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2nd edn., 2015], 1–2) between Jew-hatred, the pre-modern psychological form of antisemitism, and modern antisemitism, the political and ideological movement leading to the Holocaust. For scholars who disagree with this model, see Jonathan Adams and Cordelia Heß, “Towards a Direct Comparison of Pre-Modern and Modern Forms of Antisemitism,” in The Medieval Roots of Antisemitism: Continuities and Discontinuities from the Middle Ages to the Present Day, ed. Jonathan Adams and Cordelia Heß (New York: Routledge, 2018), 3–16.

Studies in Medievalism XXIX, 2019


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Residual Antisemitisms Arguing mostly on the basis of evidence from literature, architecture, and the arts, David Matthews has demonstrated how medievalism held a central position during Britain’s Victorian and America’s pre- and post-Civil War eras.2 Medievalist influences abounded in the canonical cultural production of the time, for example in the works of Walter Scott, John Ruskin, and Thomas Carlyle. After this period, the excitement about medieval ideals and practices waned and found a new habitat in the institutionalized forms of inquiry in the academic subjects of medieval history, literature, and art history of the modern university. Medievalist themes and ideas, so Matthews claims, became marginal at the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, increasingly making appearances as substrates, implications, and references, as tropes in twentieth-century genre fiction, and in translations and adaptations. Ironically, this reduction of medievalism to one of numerous other cultural influences on modern Anglo-American societies also rendered it omnipresent, albeit in less significant doses. Matthews terms this kind of medievalism “residual,” pointing to J. R. R. Tolkien’s “infantilized” version of the Middle Ages, often “on the edge of bathos” and “about the lives of satirically small people” in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.3 Similarly, Matthews observes the end of medievalism’s centrality in T. S. Eliot’s Waste Land, which, while indebted to the Arthurian legend, is also beholden to Baudelaire, the Bible, Donne, Ovid, Shakespeare, and Verlaine. I have attempted to show that the omnipresent residual medievalism of the early twentieth century facilitated the abuse of medieval narratives and simplistic ideas about medieval culture in the service of nationalism and fascism.4 It was only after the Second World War that the increased impact of academic medieval studies and the inclusion of the results of medieval studies in educational curricula increased the pressure on religious and state authorities to question established traditions. Consider, for example, the case of the pilgrimage tradition surrounding the alleged late medieval ritual murder of Anderl of Rinn (Austria). Based on an overwhelming body of scholarly evidence that exposed the blood libel accusations as indefensible, the diocese of Innsbruck disposed of anti-Jewish depictions of the alleged events in 1961, removed Anderl’s relics from the Rinn church in 1985, and finally ended the church’s status as a site of pilgrimage


David Matthews, Medievalism: A Critical History (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2015). Medievalism, 138. 4 Richard Utz, Medievalism: A Manifesto (Kalamazoo, MI; Bradford, UK: ARC Humanities Press, 2017). 3 Matthews,

Medievalism, Antisemitism, Twenty-First-Century Media 43 as late as in 1994.5 In a similar case, it took until 1992 and the publication of a 775-page study to convince the diocese of Regensburg, Germany, to interdict the “Deggendorfer Gnad,” a 500-year-old annual pilgrimage based on an alleged “Jewish desecration” and “miracle of the host.” The research portrayed in the hefty tome revealed how the late medieval citizens and clergy of the small Bavarian town of Deggendorf had colluded in fabricating the legend as an exoneration strategy against murdering and robbing their Jewish neighbors. The book also uncovered how highly efficient religion-based represent-ation techniques, including annual processions, indulgences, music, art, and plays, etc., had forged the town’s identity all the way into the final decade of the twentieth century.6 In both cases, as in the majority of similar cases, research-based critiques of irrational accusations of ritual murder or host desecration had begun in the eighteenth century. However, it was in the second half of the twentieth century that scholarship and education in medieval studies and reception studies were able to become an irresistible academic and cultural force capable of ending most openly practiced antisemitic traditions. Even the radical reforms in the Catholic Church’s views of the Jews enacted by the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) were effected in large part by a critical mass of scholarly evidence. Most importantly, the Catholic Church ended its tradition of defining Jews as a race or a nation and ceased blaming Jews collectively for “killing Christ.” Instead, the Church attributed responsibility for Christ’s crucifixion and death to Jewish leaders of Christ’s time and to sinful mankind in general. As with the two cases mentioned above, historical-critical approaches to the depiction of Jews in the New Testament began in the early years of the European Enlightenment, but were ignored or suppressed by the Catholic Church until Pope Pius XII in 1943 initiated a renewal of biblical studies.7 I do not want to claim here that the deeply ingrained hatred of Jews, engendered and sustained by medieval, early modern, and modern Christianity, and expanded and functionalized by state-sponsored antisemitism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, was single-handedly tempered by academic and amateur scholarship on medieval studies. However, I will claim 5

For information on the Rinn pilgrimage tradition, see Judenstein: Das Ende einer Legende, ed. Diözese Innsbruck (Innsbruck: Redaktion Kirche, 1995), and Bernhard Fresacher, Anderl von Rinn: Ritualmordkult und Neuorientierung in Judenstein 1945–1995 (Innsbruck: Tyrolia Verlag, 1998). 6 Manfred Eder, Die “Deggendorfer Gnad”: Entstehung und Entwicklung einer Hostienwallfahrt im Kontext von Theologie und Geschichte (Passau: Passavia, 1992). I have surveyed this case in “Deggendorf, and the Long History of its Destructive Myth,” for The Public Medievalist (August 31, 2018), , last accessed July 26, 2018. 7 See Peter M. Marendy, “Anti-Semitism, Christianity, and the Catholic Church: Origins, Consequences, and Reponses,” Journal of Church and State 47.2 (Spring 2005): 289–307.


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that Enlightenment thought and, in its wake, historical-critical research, education, and traditional media contributed decisively toward rendering some of the most inflammatory accusations against medieval and modern Jews intellectually and culturally untenable.8 Jewish political activism also played a decisive role in promulgating historical scholarship: As individual tour guides in medieval cathedrals, in national and international newspapers, magazines, and in influential organizations like the Anti-Defamation League, Jews contributed to combating antisemitism, including antisemitic words and actions, “some linked to deeply engrained, centuries-old anti-Jewish bias.”9 Moreover, the central role of Jewish faculty members in post-WWII higher education, especially in the United States, supported the historicist rectification of medieval antisemitic myths.10 At least in most western countries, by the 1990s, the easy anchoring of modern antisemitic propaganda based on medieval narratives had reached an all-time low. The enactment of various “memory laws” against Holocaust negationists in Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, and Belgium between 1985 and 1998 was an expression of a similar historical consciousness.11 While scholarship, education, traditional media, and the law were able to historicize and rectify numerous individual cases in which modern proponents of racism, ethno-nationalism, and conservative Christianity had coopted “actual” or invented medieval roots, their rationalist approaches underestimated the ubiquity of the residual medievalisms David Matthews 8

In the 1980s, the Vatican published guidelines for historically accurate representations of the Passion of Christ. See, for example the Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion (US Catholic Conference: Office of Publishing and Promotion Services, 1988), and “Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church” (1985), by the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, available in Jewish-Christian Relations: A Textbook for Australian Students, ed. Maurice Ryan (Ringwood: David Lovell Publishing, 2004), 193–205. 9 The Anti-Defamation League’s website provides examples of such interventions: , last accessed July 30, 2018. For an example of an individual’s work of enlightenment, see Menachem Wecker’s report on Moisés HassánAmsélem, a Jewish tour guide in Seville: “Some of Europe’s Top Tourist Destinations are Homes to Anti-Semitic Imagery. What Should be Done?” America: The Jesuit Review (July 13, 2018), , last accessed July 30, 2018. 10 By the early 1970s, the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education reported that Jews, who constituted three percent of the national population, constituted nine percent of the faculty in US universities. Among top-ranked universities, the proportion of Jews was seventeen percent. See Stephen Steinberg, “How Jewish Quotas Began,” Commentary Magazine (September 1, 1971), , last accessed July 31, 2018. 11 Nikolay Koposov, Memory Laws, Memory Wars: The Politics of the Past in Europe and Russia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 302–3.

Medievalism, Antisemitism, Twenty-First-Century Media 45 describes. While they could focus their formidable scholarly and juridical arsenal on one local, regional, and national issue after another, modern media and the affective visual quality of their narratives could often revive the residual biases that continued under the rational surface of cultural elites. Mel Gibson’s 1995 movie Braveheart, for example, single-handedly resurrected the belief in the mythographic ius primae noctis for millions of viewers.12 Gibson’s depiction of Christ’s crucifixion in his 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ reconfirmed fundamentalist Catholics’ negative view of the Jews. The movie reminded William Safire of the “essence of the medieval ‘passion play,’ preserved in pre-Hitler Germany at Oberammergau, a source of the hatred of all Jews as ‘Christ killers’.”13 These media-based setbacks and increased evidence about the historical continuity between medieval post-Black Death pogroms and violence against Jews in the 1920s and 1930s should have been warning signs about the fearsome longevity of antisemitic prejudice.14 Banal Antisemitisms To understand the current relationship between medievalism and antisemitism, we need to overlay David Matthews’ thoughts on modern residual medievalisms with Andrew B. R. Elliott’s findings on the dramatic recent changes in the interrelationship of medievalism, politics, and contemporary mass media.15 Elliott describes how twenty-first-century popular medievalisms and other online medievalisms are mostly disconnected from the historical Middle Ages so important to the twentieth-century combat against anachronism and mythography, but exclusively exist because of contemporary meme culture. In this meme culture, traditional models of authority and authenticity for communicating about the medieval past are irrelevant. Instead of the onerous identification of sources, causes, and paths of transmission, which would challenge ambiguity and inaccuracy, the modes of dissemination for medievalist memes in contemporary mass media are examples of Jean Baudrillard’s simulacra, presenting world-wide audiences with copies of copies without an original. However, even a Baudrillardian analysis of the vertical relationships 12

“‘Mes souvenirs sont peut-être reconstruits’: Medieval Studies, Medievalism, and the Scholarly and Popular Memories of the ‘Right of the Lord’s First Night’,” Philologie im Netz 31 (2005): 49–59 (51–9). 13 “No Peace, But a Sword,” New York Times (March 1, 2004), , last accessed July 25, 2018. 14 Nico Voigtländer and Hans-Joachim Voth, “Persecution Perpetuated: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Semitic Violence in Nazi Germany,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 127.3 (2012): 1339–92. 15 Andrew B. R. Elliott, Medievalism, Politics and Mass Media: Appropriating the Middle Ages in the Twenty-first Century (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2017).


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between contemporary medievalisms and the Middle Ages will not do justice to the empty signifiers dominating current mass media. After all, where Baudrillard’s thought implies the existence of an ultimate meaning-granting referent (even if the connection to that original referent has been lost as part of the modern condition), current medievalist memes can only be understood by an investigation into the infinitely more complex horizontal relationships between countless contemporary and multiply mediated mass medievalisms.16 Elliott calls his examples “banal medievalisms.” They are bricolages of ideological redeployments of medievalist tropes or memes, or “the Middle Ages in the twenty-first-century media landscape” as “unconscious sites of unchallenged heritage and, ultimately, unchallenged reference points in our collective imagination.”17 Similar to the kinds of Banal Nationalism Michael Billig revealed in 1985, Elliott defines “banal medievalisms” as an “endemic condition made more powerful by the fact that [they] pass unobserved in most cases.”18 Behind these medievalisms’ superficially harmless repetitions and unaware remediations, he uncovers the potential for the banal evil Hannah Arendt diagnosed in the quotidian absence and failure of thinking, imagination, and self-awareness embodied by Hitler’s Adolf Eichmann.19 Elliott’s findings are essential to understand the kind of persistence and dissemination of banal medievalisms within the world of twenty-first-century media. Facebook’s “Jewish Ritual Murder” “Community” page20 may serve as a case study. While the page was removed in early 2018, it existed for four years and presented a blatant example of hate speech allowed to persist despite its obvious violation of Facebook’s community standards against hate speech based on religious affiliation.21 During this period, the page’s ­membership tripled from c. 500 to c. 1500. Multiple organizations, including 16

On Baudrillard’s theory of the simulacrum and its relationship to medievalism and neomedievalism, see Lauryn S. Mayer, “Simulacrum,” in: Medievalism: Key Critical Terms, ed. Elizabeth Emery and Richard Utz (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2014), 223–30. 17 Elliott, Medievalism, Politics and Mass Media, 16. 18 Elliott, Medievalism, Politics and Mass Media, 17. Michael Billig, Banal Nationalism (London: SAGE, 1985). 19 Billig and Elliott find their inspiration in Arendt’s 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. In her study, Arendt concluded that national socialism had enabled a new kind of society, in which humans coldly implemented policy, but no longer thought reflectively about their own actions as political beings, whose own life and thinking is inextricably linked to the life and thinking of others. As Judith Butler has stated, Arendt did not claim that Eichmann and the Nazis had committed an ordinary or unprecedented kind of crime, but she feared “that what had become ‘banal’ was non-thinking itself.” See Butler’s “Hannah Arendt’s challenge to Adolf Eichmann,” The Guardian (August 29, 2011), , last accessed August 30, 2018. 20 . 21 , last accessed July 31, 2018.

Medievalism, Antisemitism, Twenty-First-Century Media 47, the Anti-Defamation League, and ProPublica, and numerous individuals reported the page and requested that it be removed. Relying on historical evidence, they adduced academic studies to convince the Facebook employees in charge of maintaining the community standards.22 M. Johnson, the author of the September 2014 petition, for example, presented himself and his cause with full confidence in rational argument and historical scholarship: I am a medieval historian (PhD in Medieval Studies). I have studied at length the blood libel leveled against Jews during the Middle Ages. The blood libel alleged – with absolutely no basis in fact – that Jews were responsible for (among other things) murdering Christian children and using their blood for ritual purposes such as unleavened bread, and that Jews were solely to blame for the execution of Jesus of Nazareth. The claims of the blood libel have been used from the Middle Ages and on into today’s world to perpetuate the notion that it is acceptable to perpetrate horrific acts of discrimination, violence, and slaughter upon Jews and Jewish communities. Any Facebook page that describes these false practices of ritual murder is implicitly encouraging similar ­activities even if it never says so outright. My own observations during several visits to the page as well as ­screenshot and capture views demonstrate that the author(s) of the page used the strategies Andrew Elliott identifies.23 Outright claims of ritual murder are rare. Instead, posts “suggest” matters and provide links to independent sites and pages that “support” the existence of the page’s central antisemitic meme: Jewish ritual murder.24 The majority of the posts, the names of members who posted comments, and the “basic” English used on the page would indicate that the page may have had its origins and main distribution in Eastern Europe or Russia.25 22

For the petition, see ; for a list of other organizations’ actions, see Mark Gardner, “Facebook Deletes its ‘Jewish Ritual Murder’ Page – It’s the Least we can Expect,” The Jewish Chronicle (January 4, 2018), , both last accessed July 31, 2018. 23 ; , last accessed August 3, 2018. 24 The page’s title, “Jewish Ritual Murder,” links to a Twitter account, @TruthAboutJews. The account, registered in April 2014, promises “Only The Truth Here, Specifically About The Jews And The Darkies.” 25 A typical example is the post on Gabriel of Białystok (d. 1690), a child saint of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose narrative was revived by the government of Belarus in the early 2000s. See the 2006 International Religious Freedom Report by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, , last accessed August 3, 2018.


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The site itself is a flattened, minimalist effort and only proposes superficially harmless repetitions and remediations of narratives, supported by a few visuals. Within this bricolage, pre-modern ritual-murder accusations feature prominently, including the narratives surrounding William of Norwich (c.  1144) and Simon of Trent (c. 1475), but most posts revolve around modern accusations that often only hint at medieval narratives for authentication: articles from the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer, innuendo from contemporary Russian news agencies, alleged blood libel cases from US history, statements by Martin Luther, and a link to an updated English translation of Helmut Schramm’s notorious 1943 book Der jüdische Ritualmord, hailed on the linked website as “a valuable addition to the historiography on this subject” and produced “in Germany during the National Socialist regime […] in an atmosphere obviously conducive to free historical inquiry on this otherwise forbidden ‘third-rail’ topic.”26 Heinrich Himmler had the “study” distributed among his SS, convinced that the medieval ritual murder narrative offered the best opportunity for his propaganda.27 Facebook officials resisted numerous calls for removing the page. In 2015, for example, a Facebook spokesperson explained: We aim to find the right balance between giving people a place to express themselves and promoting a welcoming and safe environment for our diverse, global community. Not all disagreeable or disturbing content violates our community standards. For this reason, we offer people who use Facebook the ability to customize and control what they see by un-following, blocking and hiding the posts, people, pages and applications they don’t want to see.28 David Perry, in an article about this and similarly evasive reactions by social media platforms and Internet companies, received the following response about the “Jewish Ritual Murder” page from a Facebook employee who spoke without permission from the company.29 The employee explained that the site was gaming the community standards by injecting just enough doubt into its claims – and by keeping its claims “historical,” rather than contemporary. The secret for the page’s imperviousness to academic and scholarly 26 ,

last accessed August 1, 2018. Marvin Perry and Frederick M. Schweitzer, Antisemitism: Myth and Hate from Antiquity to the Present (New York: Palgrave, 2002), 2–3. 28 Paul Lungen, “Facebook Won’t Remove ‘Jewish Ritual Murder’ Page,” Canadian Jewish News (January 12, 2015), , last accessed August 7, 2018. 29 David M. Perry, “When Will Facebook Take Hate Seriously,” Pacific Standard (December 15, 2017), , last accessed July 30, 2018. 27

Medievalism, Antisemitism, Twenty-First-Century Media 49

criticism seems to have been, according to Perry, Facebook’s “vague nod toward the impossibility of disproving the blood libel.” However, due to continuing protests about the specific page, and perhaps more importantly because of the pressure exerted on Facebook’s leadership about its general business practices, advertising, and privacy issues, the “Jewish Ritual Murder” page was removed in January 2018. At first sight, this would mean that the powers of modern historical scholarship won out once again over the powers of disinformation and discrimination. However, there is a major difference between most of the cases of antisemitic accusations in the second half of the twentieth century and the removal of the “Jewish Ritual Murder” page. Narratives like those about Anderl of Rinn and the Deggendorf Gnad were situated in actual places and related to real cultural practices. Therefore, these places and practices could be researched and revealed in their problematic historical origins. The citizens of the Rinn and Deggendorf regions had little choice but to adjust to the overwhelming scholarly evidence as well as the enlightened decisions made by church and state authorities. The memorialization of alleged medieval ritual murders or host desecrations was replaced by positive new commemorative practices condemning past actions, asking for forgiveness, and calling for a respectful engagement between Christian and Jewish citizens.30 The removal of images, rewriting of traditions, and replacement of antisemitic with ecumenical practices were all possible because of the “situatedness” of the traditions in a physical place. The memes disseminated by the “Jewish Ritual Murder” Facebook page, while removed from one of their virtual sites, simply move on to others or already coexist under different names. For example, one of the “likes” on the “Jewish Ritual Murder” page was from another Facebook group. While not maintained by the same author(s) and mostly focused on contemporary antisemitic, anti-immigrant, racist, and conspiracy memes, Facebook’s “Jewish Truth Movement – redux” page promises as simple a goal as the “Jewish Ritual Murder” site: “The facts, about any and all topics relating to Jews.”31 Even on this site, we find posts dredging up the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (July 23, 2018), accusing Jews and Muslims of conspiring to enslave “Europeans” in medieval Spain (June 4, 2018), and promoting British fascist Arnold Leese’s 1938 manifesto Jewish Ritual Murder (January 26, 2018). This uncomplicated mobility and a keen understanding of the weak spots in the policies of Internet companies have been the hallmarks of antisemitic


The permanent exhibit on ritual murder in the Deggendorf museum is an example of such changes. See , last accessed August 1, 2018. 31 , last accessed August 11, 2018.


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media activities since the early 2000s.32 About two thirds of the sites on “ritual murder” or “blood libel” archived by the Internet Archive propagate the myth. Similarly, a search on Twitter’s hashtag #JewishRitualMurder reveals the same memes as on Facebook.33 And while social justice organizations convinced some providers to acknowledge the serious nature of cyber hate, offer more user-friendly mechanisms to report content, respond to user reports in a more timely fashion, and enforce their own published terms of service in a somewhat more consistent manner, there can be no doubt that the fight against antisemitic memes and other hateful content on the largest marketplace of ideas ever created will be Sisyphean.34 Beyond the strategies of counter-speech available to all who combat antisemitism, medievalists may want to consider sharing their considerable knowledge on the origins and reception history of antisemitism in publications that reach wider publics and make an additional effort to understand how cyber hate spreads. The residual and banal nature of medievalist antisemitism in the twenty-first century requires media-savvy public medievalists who match the hate-speech creators’ knowledge of new technology. Consider, for example, contributing to Wikipedia: it is among the most popular websites on the Internet and the web’s most popular and largest reference resource. Instead of dismissing the quality of all Wikipedia articles based on some of its worst entries, all medievalists should strive to integrate Wikipedia editing and writing into their medieval-studies classes and to write for Wikipedia themselves.35 Learning how to plot a route through the rules and social and rhetorical norms of a complex online community of knowledge creation may well make a medievalist’s work more relevant than the 1000-word entry one writes for a scholarly encyclopedia only accessible at twenty-five well-heeled research universities. While there will be no direct academic rewards for contributing to Wikipedia, it can be a highly effective way of setting the record straight for anyone who cares to learn the truth about antisemitism and related issues. 32

In the early 2000s, providers routinely purged ritual-murder pages only to see them reappear on other sites and servers. See Richard Utz, “Remembering Ritual Murder: The Anti-Semitic Blood Accusation Narrative in Medieval and Contemporary Cultural Memory,” in Genre and Ritual: The Cultural Heritage of Medieval Rituals, ed. Eyolf Østrem et al. (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2005), 145–62. 33 ; . 34 See ADL’s “Best Practices for Responding to Cyberhate”: , last accessed August 8, 2018. 35 For assistance on how to include Wikipedia in the classroom, see Adeline Koh, “Integrating Wikipedia in Your Courses: Tips and Tricks,” Chronicle of Higher Education (February  18, 2015), , last accessed August 8, 2018.

II Other Responses to Medievalism (and Authenticity)

Work for the Soul: Medievalism, the Arts and Crafts Movement, and the Development of a Practical Spirituality in Evelyn Underhill’s Novel The Gray World *1 Carla Arnell “God comes to the soul in His working clothes, and brings His tools with him” – that curious claim is one the scholar, mystic, and novelist Evelyn Underhill makes in House of the Soul, her 1929 guide to spirituality.2 So characteristic of Underhill’s spiritual thinking is such a claim that the iconographer Suzanne Schleck chose it as the textual accompaniment to her icon of Underhill.3 That Underhill now has her own icon and even commemoration day within the Anglican church signifies the admiration her spiritual work has been accorded in recent decades. In her own time, the editor, writer, and fellow spiritual-seeker Arthur Edward Waite described her as a woman “whose repute as a mystical writer is at present second to none among living

* My thanks to former Richter scholar Finn Bunta, who offered invaluable assistance and enthusiasm during the initial stages of my research for this article. Thanks to Barbara Newman and Lois Barr for their helpful comments. And thanks also to Nina Codell, Kalina Sawyer, Kim Hazlett, and Richter scholar Aleksandar Markovic for their bibliographic assistance. 1 This work was published in 1904 as The Grey World in Britain (London: William Heinemann) and The Gray World in the US (New York: The Century Company). I have worked from the American edition and therefore use its spelling throughout this essay. 2 Evelyn Underhill, The House of the Soul and Concerning the Inner Life (Minneapolis, MN: Seabury, 1947), 38. 3 Joy Dixon, “‘Dark Ecstasies’: Sex, Mysticism and Psychology in Early Twentieth-Century England,” Gender and History 25.3 (2013): 652–67 (653). Studies in Medievalism XXIX, 2019


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people.”4 T. S. Eliot, another famous contemporary, read her work Mysticism while a student at Harvard, later met her, and was indelibly shaped by that “intellectual, personal, and spiritual acquaintance.”5 During the first half of the twentieth century, Underhill wrote prolifically about spiritual topics. And yet, despite recognition of her nonfictional spiritual writing by peers and recent scholars, Underhill’s fiction remains little read, and she still sits at the margins of scholarly study of early twentieth-century literature, although she wrote several spiritually inflected short stories, poems, and three novels during the first decade of the last century. Underhill’s reputation rightly rests on Mysticism (1911), her major study of that topic, and the plentiful spiritual writings that issued from that seminal work.6 However, her fiction, written in the decade prior to Mysticism, prefigures many of her most important spiritual insights and participates in a larger but underexplored movement of early twentieth-century writers (Waite, Arthur Machen, R. H. Benson, and Charles Williams, to name just a few) who test the boundaries of literary realism to explore significant spiritual and metaphysical questions, including the relationship between artistry and spirituality. In that respect, her fiction merits more scholarly attention. Thus far, sustained scholarship about Underhill’s fiction has been limited to criticism embedded within biographies about her, with the exception of an unpublished dissertation by Justine Scott McCarthy exploring the psychological implications of her modernist aesthetic and a splendid recent essay by Carol Poston on Marian devotion in her fiction and other writings.7 In analyzing Underhill’s fiction, her most recent biographers, Christopher J. R. Armstrong and Dana Greene, have emphasized the degree to which she sees the mystic as what Greene calls “the artist of the infinite life,” a phrase that serves as the title of Greene’s biographical study of Underhill.8 In fact, in two of Underhill’s novels – The Gray World and The Lost Word – artistic activity is 4 5 6



A. E. Waite, Shadows of Life and Thought: A Retrospective Review in the Form of Memoirs (London: Selwyn and Blount, 1938), 167. Donald J. Childs, “T. S. Eliot and Evelyn Underhill: An Early Mystical Influence,” The Durham University Journal 80.1 (1987): 83–98 (83). As Lawrence Cunningham notes, Mysticism has “never gone out of print” since its initial publication. Lawrence Cunningham, “Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism: An Appreciation,” Spiritus 12.1 (2012): 106–12 (106). Justine Scott McCarthy, “Edges of the Mind: Psychic Margins and the Modernist Aesthetic in Vernon Lee, Evelyn Underhill, May Sinclair, Dion Fortune and Jane Harrison,” unpublished dissertation, Queen Mary University of London (2000), 85, and Carol Poston, “Evelyn Underhill and the Virgin Mary,” Anglican Theological Review 97.1 (Winter 2015): 75–89. Christopher J. R. Armstrong, Evelyn Underhill (1875–1941): An Introduction to Her Life and Writings (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1975), and Dana Greene, Evelyn Underhill: Artist of the Infinite Life (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998).

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central to the protagonist’s mystic quest. Like Armstrong and Greene, Géza von Molnár also sees artistic activity as central to Underhill’s conception of the mystic, arguing that she echoes Novalis’s German Romanticism in conceiving of the “individual’s evolution into a poet” as the “apex of human accomplishment.”9 Furthermore, because of Underhill’s sustained attention to mysticism as an art, Kathleen Henderson Staudt claims that “her work lays the groundwork for a theological aesthetics.”10 Yet, underlying Underhill’s obvious efforts to connect art and spirituality is the fundamental question: what kind of art? I would suggest that a deeper understanding of the relationship between artistry and spirituality in Underhill’s work depends upon examining how the Arts and Crafts movement, as a vehicle for translating and modernizing idealized aspects of medieval culture, shaped her novels and, ultimately, her unique spiritual ethos. Her fiction is everywhere marked by medievalism and, more specifically, by the Arts and Crafts movement’s distinctive reception of medieval culture. A study of Underhill’s complex response to the Arts and Crafts movement illuminates why she sees God as a tool maker and the human soul as a craftsman for whom the material things of this world – architecture, stained glass, jewelry, books – can become vehicles for making this life meaningful and for practically accessing the wild beauty of a divine Reality beyond. I argue, therefore, that key aspects of the Arts and Crafts movement’s moral aesthetic define the practical spirituality in Underhill’s novels, prefiguring the sacramental turn of her later writings. From Medievalism to “Modernism”: The Moral Aesthetic of the Arts and Crafts Movement Born in 1875 in England, Underhill began her life during the heyday of the Arts and Crafts movement. Fired by the moral aesthetics of John Ruskin, Thomas Carlyle, and William Morris in the mid-nineteenth century, many key developments in that movement took place in the last decades of the nineteenth century, when Underhill was coming to maturity. In the year of Underhill’s birth, William Morris took up a variety of handicrafts, ranging from painting and carving to furniture making, and he reorganized his firm as Morris & Co.11 And many of his key works of literature were published a decade later: A Dream of John Ball was serialized in 1886–87 and News from 9

Géza von Molnár, “Mysticism and a Romantic Concept of Art: Some Observations on Evelyn Underhill’s Practical Mysticism and Novalis’ Heinrich von Ofterdingen,” Studia Mystica 6.2 (1983): 66–75 (70). 10 Kathleen Henderson Staudt, “Rereading Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism,” Spiritus 12.1 (2012): 113–28 (116). 11 Clive Wilmer, “Introduction,” in William Morris’s News from Nowhere and Other Writings (London: Penguin, 1993), ix–xli (xiii).


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Nowhere in 1890. In that regard, the Arts and Crafts movement constituted the modern culture of Underhill’s developmental years. Not surprisingly, her own life came to be marked by Arts and Crafts ideas and artistic practices. Inspired by figures like Ruskin, the Arts and Crafts movement had its roots in a love, similar to Underhill’s, for medieval culture. According to Elizabeth Cumming and Wendy Kaplan: The architect and theorist A. W. N. Pugin […] provided the foundation from which the moral aesthetics of Arts and Crafts evolved during the second half of the century. Pugin rejected the early Victorian vogue for Classical architecture in favour of a revival of medieval Gothic, which, he believed, reflected the order and stability of the Christian faith.12 Cumming and Kaplan continue, “Pugin’s dream of re-uniting designer and craftsman and, in broader terms, the spiritual with the everyday, was taken up by Ruskin and the designer and writer William Morris, the two main founders of the Arts and Crafts movement.”13 Their ideal of uniting spiritual ideas and ordinary life especially appealed to Underhill and shaped her thinking in myriad ways. John Ruskin’s ideas are particularly relevant to Underhill’s middle novel, The Lost Word, which features a church architect, Paul Vickery, bent on a Ruskinesque quest to create the perfect Gothic church and find fulfillment as both designer and builder. To the broader Arts and Crafts movement, Ruskin was a seminal thinker, whose love of Gothic architecture was best articulated in his 1853 book The Stones of Venice in a chapter titled “The Nature of the Gothic.” Therein, he identifies “certain mental tendencies of the [medieval] builders” that deserve admiration: “fancifulness, love of variety, love of richness,” among others.14 He makes a powerful argument in praise of Gothic architecture’s sympathy with the natural world in contrast to classical architecture, which he regarded as slavishly conforming to artistic rules of symmetry.15 Yet he asserts that the natural variety evident in Gothic forms comes not from “love of change” for its own sake but rather from “practical necessities,”16 emphasizing a practical orientation that Underhill was to inherit and develop. A generation later William Morris and his friends adopted Ruskin’s love of medieval culture and realized the ideal of making art out of the practical 12

Elizabeth Cumming and Wendy Kaplan, The Arts and Crafts Movement (London: Thames and Hudson, 1991), 11. 13 Cumming and Kaplan, Arts, 12. 14 John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice, ed. J. G. Links (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2003), 159. 15 Ruskin, Stones, 168–9. 16 Ruskin, Stones, 168.

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necessities of life by extending the craftsman’s sphere of endeavor far beyond architecture. To some extent, the Arts and Crafts movement ushered in by Morris was loosely united by an interest in crafts such as book making, jewelry making, weaving, and embroidery. The movement got its name in the 1880s, thanks to one of the most distinguished bookbinders of the era, T. J. Cobden-Sanderson.17 According to Kaplan, the decade of the 1880s “saw the formation of the first exhibition societies and the organization of guilds, inspired by the ideal of the craft associations that had maintained standards of workmanship in medieval Europe.”18 Although key leaders in these Arts and Crafts societies and guilds theorized idealistically about work and art, as is clear from William Morris’s utopian philosophizing in News from Nowhere, the movement had a fundamentally practical orientation. Kaplan explains, “Crafts as a hobby was always an important part of the Arts and Crafts movement, since proponents believed so deeply in the spiritual benefits of work done by hand.”19 Of the many ideas circulating among Arts and Crafts proponents, several stand out as influential for Underhill, and William Morris’s writings provide perhaps the clearest and most succinct exposition of those ideas. First, Arts and Crafts thinkers developed ideals in strong sympathy with the culture of the Middle Ages. In Morris’s utopian romance News from Nowhere, a Victorian-era protagonist named William Guest adventures into an idealfuture society paradoxically premised on many of the values of the medieval past. As the utopian society’s resident historian explains to William: More akin to our way of looking at life was the spirit of the Middle Ages to whom heaven and the life of the next world was such a reality, that it became to them a part of the life upon earth; which accordingly they loved and adorned, in spite of the ascetic doctrines of their formal creed, which bade them contemn it.20 Here Morris illuminates how an outlook rooted in a transcendent world beyond was connected to the art-making of this world. While Morris himself abandoned any belief in a transcendent world, he nonetheless lionized the individual craftsmanship characteristic of work in the Middle Ages and lost by the industrial processes of nineteenth-century mass production. In this regard the Arts and Crafts movement was fundamentally revivalist. As fellow designer Walter Crane summarized their movement, it was an effort “towards 17

Wendy Kaplan, Leading “The Simple Life”: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain 1880–1910 (Miami Beach: The Wolfsonian-Florida International University, 1999), 16. 18 Kaplan, Leading, 14. 19 Kaplan, Leading, 20. 20 Morris, News, 158.


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a revival of design and handicraft, the effort to unite – or rather reunite – the artist and the craftsman [italics mine].”21 Second, as Crane’s comment makes clear, Arts and Crafts thinkers sought to elevate craft to the level of art. Morris directly justified ordinary decorative crafts as art in his 1877 lecture “The Lesser Arts,” delivered to the Trades Guild of Learning. In that lecture, he asserts, “Our subject is that great body of art, by means of which men have at all times more or less striven to beautify the familiar matters of everyday life.”22 As Morris goes on to argue, it is not just the great arts – painting and sculpture – that are worthy of the artist’s endeavor, but book making, enameling, carpentry, carving, pottery, and textile arts, among other traditional crafts. He explains that “To give people pleasure in the things they must perforce use, that is one great office of decoration.”23 Crane echoes this sentiment in an essay written for the 1903 collection of Arts and Crafts Essays, published by the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society: “[I]f Art is not recognised in the humblest object and material, and felt to be valuable in its own way […] – the arts cannot be in sound condition.”24 This democratizing of the arts, so to speak, opened the door to a democratizing of the artist. In other words, if one can create art by finishing a book or designing a jeweled pendant, then almost anyone can be an artist. Morris’s view reflects an egalitarianism and a practical utilitarianism that we will later see in Underhill’s spiritual ethos, for she makes a similar argument about the ordinary character of the mystic’s path in her book Practical Mysticism (1914).25 Third, Arts and Crafts thinkers inspired by Carlyle and Ruskin argued for the essential value of creative work. In Past and Present (1843), Carlyle had earlier lionized the sacred nature of work, writing, “there is a perennial nobleness, and even sacredness, in Work. Were he never so benighted, forgetful of his high calling, there is always hope in a man that actually and earnestly works.”26 Ruskin similarly saw work as central to human life, rooting his vision of work in the model of the medieval craft-guilds. As Michael 21

Walter Crane, “Of the Revival of Design and Handicraft: With Notes on the Work of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition,” in Arts and Crafts Essays, ed. William Morris (1903; repr. N. P.: Forgotten Books, 2012), 1–21 (11). 22 Morris, News, 234. 23 Morris, News, 235. 24 Crane, “Revival,” 4–5. 25 Evelyn Underhill, Practical Mysticism (Columbus, OH: Ariel Press, 1914). There she explains that the awareness of the “spiritual artist” is “possible to all men: without it, they are not wholly conscious, nor wholly alive” (30). Her book is dedicated, therefore, to putting into “plain and untechnical language” the mystic’s worldview and “to suggest the practical conditions under which ordinary persons may participate in [the mystics’] experience” (16). 26 Thomas Carlyle, Past and Present (1843; repr. London: Oxford University Press, 1950), 202.

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Alexander explains, “Ruskin and Morris dreamed of becoming working men. As adults, they lectured and wrote advocating the ideal of the craftsman. Ruskin founded the medieval Guild of St. George, and Morris tried to recreate a medieval workshop.”27 Morris, however, came to reject the argument that work per se is good for the soul. Instead, in his 1884 lecture “Useful Work Versus Useless Toil” he argues that work is central to human happiness, but it must meet certain criteria in order to be spiritually fulfilling. The work must, first of all, be pleasurable to the worker.28 It must be useful (a key justification for work at crafts like book making or textile weaving).29 It must provide a livelihood and not merely supply the demands of the “profit market.”30 It must be performed in “pleasurable surroundings,”31 which Morris contrasts to the factory conditions increasingly typical of work in his modern era. And, finally, it must be performed with sincerity, reflecting authentic investment on the part of the designer, craftsman, and user. The authentic craftsman was imagined as a contrast to industrial workers, who were alienated from both the artistic conception and the final use of the products of their labor, manufacturing products only to fire a burgeoning mass-market and increase profits.32 Thus, many of the ideals laid out in Morris’s writings – work as revival of medieval craft, the elevation of ordinary crafts to the level of art, the value and character of creative work – foreshadow ideals Underhill explores in The Gray World and The Lost Word. In Morris’s view, a re-vision of work as a creative endeavor not only provided spiritual contentment but also fostered the creation of a good society, which eventually became his dominant concern. However, whereas Morris emphasized the craftsman’s role in creating a good society, Underhill adopted such ideals with a focus on the individual and the creation of a healthy soul. A Craftswoman’s Spiritual Roots: Tools for the Soul Prior to the publication of her novels, Underhill’s early letters to her husband, Hubert Moore, offer ample evidence of her direct involvement with the Arts and Crafts movement, an involvement she shared with him. They subscribed to magazines that would have kept readers apprised of the latest Arts and Crafts trends. She subscribed to The Artist in 1902, was a reader of The Studio, 27

Michael Alexander, Medievalism: The Middle Ages in Modern England (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), 73. 28 Morris, News, 288. 29 Morris, News, 299. 30 Morris, News, 298. 31 Morris, News, 301–3. 32 Morris, News, 300–1.


Studies in Medievalism

and considered subscribing to Architectural Review because it used to have “lovely designs in it metal carving etc [sic].”33 Underhill and her husband did not, however, simply read about the Arts and Crafts movement in the popular magazines of the day. They themselves practiced traditional crafts: Evelyn learned the art of bookbinding, and Hubert developed a passion for enameling. Their devotion to craft-making was a significant shared bond, especially given Hubert’s apparent lack of interest in spirituality or religion, the topics so central to Evelyn’s heart. Consequently, Evelyn’s letters to him are filled with discussion of Arts and Crafts topics. She often writes to him with ideas for jewelry making – for instance, an idea for an inlay or a description of a necklace design she has seen and admires.34 Underhill’s own craft, bookbinding, she studied with the famous Arts and Crafts bookbinders Johanna Birkenruth and Cobden Sanderson. Though her letters record enthusiasm for their lessons and lectures, her disappointment in one particular lecture offers insight about Underhill’s response to the Arts and Crafts movement. Writing to Hubert, she explains: I don’t think I shall get to the 1st day of term show this time, as the second Cobden Sanderson lecture [is] that day. The first was rather vapoury all about ideals of craftsmanship & revising the old trade guilds & stuff like that but next time he is going to bring his own tools & demonstrate.35 This remark suggests that she is less interested in the grandiose ideals behind the Arts and Crafts movement and, by contrast, more interested in the practical activity of making crafts. Her many letters to Hubert attest to how much time she devoted to improving her craft as a bookbinder. These bookbinding practices had a number of important effects on her life and work. On a personal level, her work as a craftswoman drew her closer to Moore, with his zeal for jewelry making matched by her commitment to bookbinding. Her craft work also drew her closer to medieval culture, as she consciously sought to learn techniques from that distant past. For instance, writing to Moore, she notes, “I had two book binding lessons in Siena in the 15th century binding, & do hope I shall manage to make something of it with your help, as it’s very pretty. I also drew a few designs for things at the exhibition.”36 Above all, 33

Evelyn Underhill, The Making of a Mystic: New and Selected Letters of Evelyn Underhill, ed. Carol Poston (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010), 53–4, 64. 34 Underhill, Making, 33, 56. 35 Underhill, Making, 17. 36 Underhill, Making, 72.

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though, Underhill’s work as a craftswoman gave her concrete experience of the ideals touted by figures like Morris and first-hand understanding of the Arts and Crafts debates that were to unfold in her fictions. Arts and Crafts Ideals in Underhill’s Fiction: The Gray World as Exemplum That Underhill’s interest in the Arts and Crafts movement influenced her fiction is evident in several ways. For instance, her chapter epigraphs frequently record the ideas of writers such as Ruskin and Carlyle. The central characters in The Gray World and The Lost Word, her first and second novels, are, respectively, practitioners of bookbinding and church building. And, most importantly, both novels engage their characters in a spirited debate about art and spirituality that is interwoven with Arts and Crafts ideas. In these novels, we see a key development in Underhill’s aesthetic ideas that is shaped by the Arts and Crafts movement and responsible for defining her spiritual ethos in subsequent decades. To be sure, Underhill’s novelistic response to the Arts and Crafts movement is complicated and ambivalent. She is as wont to satirize distortions of the movement as to find kinship with its spiritual ideals. Still, the movement’s moral aesthetic undergirds the practical spirituality evinced in her novels and shapes the sacramental direction her later writing takes. To illustrate this argument, I shall use The Gray World as my primary exemplum. The Gray World traces its protagonist’s progression from a state of alienation and meaninglessness to a state of mystical contentment as an artist who is a craftsman. The novel recounts the story of a young slum child named Willie who dies from typhoid fever, hovers in the “gray world,” and then, after expressing a passionate prayer to return to life, is reborn in a bourgeois English family.37 Willie is forever haunted by his memory of that immaterial world – the gray world – as he seeks meaning and spiritual orientation. In the course of that new life, his education often turns out to be miseducation, for his material experiences often prove good for the body but bad for the soul. Anxious to find a spiritual home in the material world, he tries first one deadend path, then another. For instance, over the course of Willie’s coming of age, he tries a society of the occult and finds the “searchers of the soul” there banal and pretentious.38 He tries platonic friendship with a fellow society member, Stephen, but that friendship proves a “false beacon” (115). He tries 37

As James Whitlark observes, this dimension of the story evokes Eastern elements: “the maya, or unreality of life, the frustrated desires of wandering ghosts (as in Buddhist myth), the impersonal divine ‘Force,’ and his reincarnation.” James Whitlark, “Evelyn Underhill,” Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century British Women Poets, ed. William B. Thesing (Detroit, MI: Thomson Gale, 2001), 286. 38 Underhill, Gray World, 83.


Studies in Medievalism

romantic love with his friend Mildred and his elder mentor Elsa (a kind of Beatrice manqué), and then grows disillusioned with each. Finally, though, he finds inspiration in the beauty of medieval art and meaning in the medieval craft of bookbinding, achieving contentment by retreating to the remote countryside to practice bookbinding in the company of a fellow hermit. Thus, the novel charts Willie’s evolution from a philosophical dualism in which matter opposes spirit to a vision of art as the practical mediator between matter and soul. A Philosophical Dialectic: Materialism, Idealism, and Their Limits The novel opens by establishing a strict opposition between the material and spiritual world, creating an existential problem Willie must resolve in the course of the novel. Willie’s brief sojourn into the “gray world,” akin to Hades, cuts him off from ordinary material objects. He finds himself “converted into a pure spirit to whom the material universe was no more actual than the air and other invisible gases are to living men” (10). In his new form, material things are insubstantial, for he can pass through rooms, walls, and buildings without resistance (12). This unique perspective creates consternation for him, as he tries to live in the material world while questioning its reality. As a result of his sojourn in the gray world, Willie returns to ordinary reality perplexed by the many family members and family friends who are materialists of one kind or another and who seem to regard material things as the only reality. One sort of materialist, Mrs. Steinmann, is to be found in his mother’s social circle. Mrs. Steinmann is hopelessly narrow-minded in her view of reality: “For her, life held but one thing – the domestic interior” (30). Willie’s mother, Mrs. Hopkinson, rivals this triviality in focusing on domestic details such as his sister Pauline’s dirty pinafore and having “all her sense tuned to the level of her best tea-set” (31). Throughout these scenes of social satire, practical attention to such material comforts is affiliated with superficiality – an inability either to apprehend a transcendent world beyond material reality or to engage in the kind of imaginative thinking derided as “fancy” by Willie’s father. In such a home environment, Willie finds himself an outsider, for even his sister Pauline seems to have been “[b]orn a ­materialist” (22). Another form of materialism equally disconcerting to Willie is represented by his father, Mr. Hopkinson. Willie’s father – a wholesale tailor and worshiper of modern science – loves to anatomize the world, reducing its “magical clouds” to transactions of force and matter (41). Later in the novel, he dismisses any view that emotion or soul lives on after death as “medieval nonsense about future states,” invoking modern biological theories about brain-cortex, consciousness, and protoplasm to support his skeptical

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perspective (280). Furthermore, Willie’s practical father tends to dismiss anything unrelated to business; Willie laments that his father “thinks that nothing is of serious importance that has not some bearing on practical affairs” (94). In this instance “practicality” has a clear negative connotation, suggesting a worldview bereft of any transcendent or imaginative richness. Underhill thus satirizes several kinds of materialist worldviews as different forms of reductive thinking: the women’s materialism driven by social proprieties and the father’s driven by science and business. Both are shown to be inadequate responses to a more complicated reality. Surrounded by this materialism, Willie’s imaginative spirit leads him to take refuge in medieval romance stories, especially of the Grail (39). The Arthurian legend is recognized by Willie as fiction – something made up, but its Grail story nonetheless adumbrates an elusive Reality beyond, and such transcendence symbolically conveyed is temporarily consoling. Given Willie’s transcendental intimations and longings, he becomes friends with an older woman, the middle-aged Elsa Levi, whose idealistic inclinations are satirized just as sharply as are the materialisms of Mrs. Steinmann and Mr. Hopkinson, even though Elsa eventually becomes a bridge to the world of Arts and Crafts and, thereby, a character who is instrumental in forwarding Willie on his spiritual path. Elsa’s idealism takes the form of aestheticism. As Staudt notes, in Underhill’s Edwardian England “Aestheticism was in fashion – the pursuit of experience for its own sake in the arts and in human relationships.”39 This aestheticism derives in part from Walter Pater, who espoused the “necessity of dying with a faith in art.”40 In several ways, Elsa tries to conform her ordinary experiences to ideals drawn from art. For instance, inspired by Arthurian legend, she has named her two sons Tristram and Geraint, but both boys fall far short of the legendary people after which they are named: they “did not incarnate the Arthurian legend to the extent that their cultured mother had hoped” (54), and she was disappointed to “see her sons, in spite of romantic names and picturesque dresses, become more uncompromisingly Hebraic day by day” (55). Their very appearance, more like her “Hebraic” husband than akin to figures from Celtic legend, offended her “esthetic sense” (55). Elsa’s antisemitic perspective here is the most morally rebarbative aspect of her so-called idealism. Underhill illuminates how that idealism is driven in this case not only by her quixotic temperament, Paterian aestheticism, and reading of romance stories, but also by an undercurrent of antisemitism. Elsa’s aestheticism is further satirized insofar as all the ordinary things connected to rearing children are antithetical to her artistic spirit: she had 39


Staudt, “Rereading,” 116. Harold Bloom, “Introduction,” Modern Critical Views: Walter Pater (New York: Chelsea House, 1985), 13.


Studies in Medievalism

no practical interest in family linens or airing the drawing room or even in keeping her children’s hair cut or their teeth doctored (55). And at one comic moment in the story, as Willie and Elsa are about to have a romantic encounter, Geraint, despite his Romantic name, flips on the lights, abruptly disrupting their drama with his blundering action. In these scenes, Elsa’s appropriation of medieval romance as a lens for interpreting her life illustrates the complex way in which Underhill represents medieval romance within her novel. On the one hand, it gives Willie spiritual intimations of a world beyond, but on the other hand, the idealism therein leads characters like Elsa to derogate ordinary life and create an illusory world at odds with the prosaic realities of family life. Elsa’s idealism pertains not just to her children; it is also evinced in her self-fashioning. Her apparel is often artfully arranged, making her appear like a figure out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting, “looking exactly like Rossetti’s ‘Astarte Syriaca’” (94). Her hands even reflect her artistic ideals, as Willie notices her “soft and manicured hand with its strange rings of olivine, chrysoprase, and enamels” (96). Clearly, they are hands unaccustomed to the kind of craft work she later promotes to Willie. Her house, too, reflects her high-minded artistic aspirations. For instance, her drawing room eclectically blends Renaissance religious art, impressionist painting, and an Arts and Crafts frieze by Walter Crane (91). Summarizing her aesthetic creed, she proclaims, “It is [art] which raises us from the market-place, and leads us to the skies” (92). Beauty trumps all, she tries to convince Willie, as she tries to beautify her life in service to that ideal. Elsa’s idealism takes another form in her relationship with Willie; her efforts to become his ideal lover are similarly satirized. Namely, she sees herself as a kind of Beatrician courtly lady, whom Willie should worship. She would rather not have an ordinary, humdrum relationship with him, preferring instead that he serve as her courtly lover: “She reflected on the superior habits of the middle ages [sic], when young men were content to worship at the feet of married beauty without any hope of reward. ‘In those days,’ she said, ‘life was really beautiful. An engagement, I think, is almost indelicate’” (190). That her idealism of their relationship represents a tantalizing illusion is emphasized through the impression she makes on him when he visits her drawing room. Late in the novel, as Willie and Elsa approach the consummation of their romantic relationship, Willie suddenly recognizes Elsa’s artistic idealism within their relationship as an illusion. Nature rescues him from the sexual temptation prompted by Elsa’s aesthetic displays – the beclouding curtains, perfumes, and clothing. The sun’s rays cut through. He sees plants and trees outside “in a sort of gay revel of perfection which was piety and daintiness in one. It drew his thoughts abruptly to the ordered and exquisite places unsullied by human grime, where life could be beautiful, temperate, ideal” (315). By contrast, Elsa’s room is described as “artifice” (315) and

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Elsa as a character who “was tempted to add artifice to art” (309). At the end of their encounter, Willie is revolted and Elsa crestfallen. She laments, “I thought for a minute that it could have been beautiful; oh, indeed I did. With us, because of the artistry we could have put into it” (318). Here Underhill uses Elsa’s character in part to illustrate how egoistically-driven artistry can be degraded by artifice. As we shall see, Elsa is eventually juxtaposed with the craftswoman Hester Waring, whose artwork epitomizes the authentic artistry celebrated by Arts and Crafts thinkers. Elsa is, therefore, the complete antithesis of Mr. Hopkinson. Where he values science, she exalts art; where he prizes practicality, she inhabits a romantic sphere above practical realities. Ultimately, both the unreflective materialism of characters like Mr. Hopkinson and the quixotic idealism of Elsa are satirized and shown to be of limited value, in the father’s case because he naively rejects the reality of a transcendent world beyond, and in Elsa’s because she rejects the practical realities of the material world. The Use and Abuse of Arts and Crafts Ideas Despite Elsa’s imperfections, it is she who first introduces Willie to medieval art and particularly to the renovation of medieval art represented by the Arts and Crafts movement, ideas that become crucial to Willie’s spiritual progress  and the resolution of the dialectical conflict established between materialism and idealism in the first part of the novel. In that regard, Elsa is a character akin to what Underhill’s friend and novelist Arthur Machen called a “Muddy Companion,” in a phrase directly invoked in one of the novel’s chapter epigraphs (304). According to Machen in Hieroglyphics, his short book of literary criticism, a “Muddy Companion,” in contrast to a “Shadowy” one, is “a being often of exquisite wit and deep understanding but given to evil ways if one does not hold him in check.”41 Elsa’s romantic idealism is often misguided and liable to misdirect Willie, but it is also illuminating. For instance, when Willie’s father proposes an ill-fitting life of factory work for Willie, Elsa intervenes and argues for handicraft instead. Introducing Arts and Crafts work to Willie’s father and to Willie, she explains: bookbinding, you know, or jewelry, or metal-work – something of that kind. The creation of really beautiful things, as the medieval craftsmen used to do. That’s so very delightful, and all the most cultivated people are taking to it. It’s paying, too, I believe. They get enormous prices for these things [130]. 41

Arthur Machen, Hieroglyphics: A Note Upon Ecstasy in Literature (1902; repr. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1923), 104.


Studies in Medievalism

Thus redirecting Willie from factory work, she even fancies herself as a figure from Arthurian romance who will rescue Willie from mortal danger, for she “wished to deliver the boy from the dragon which awaited him; seeing herself in the position of a strong-minded princess coming to the rescue of some helpless and neurotic St. George” (127). Therefore, Willie first encounters Arts and Crafts ideas thanks to Elsa’s “heroic” intervention. Like Underhill herself, Willie begins “to read the ‘Studio’ and the ‘Artist,’ and to pay secret visits to the National Gallery. From these he returned ill-tempered and disconsolate, tired out by uninstructed efforts to appreciate medieval art,” which apparently challenged “his preconceived idea of the beautiful” (105). Later in the novel, however, he returns to the National Gallery and his appreciation for medieval art matures, assisted by Elsa’s religious attitude toward art (237). Although Elsa is an equivocal figure in the novel, she introduces to him her “dictum that prie-dieux ought to be placed before the masterpieces of devotional art,” thereby developing in him an attitude of reverence for art (237). While Elsa’s recommendations for Willie are often worthy ones, they sit comically at odds with her own reception of the Arts and Crafts movement. For she herself is only a consumer of crafts, not a creator. She has no labor to take joy in. And, in contrast to the Arts and Crafts movement’s insistence on simplicity, she is complex and full of artifice. In satirizing Elsa, Underhill highlights the ideals Elsa espouses and preaches but does not practice, characterizing her as a woman “who pointed so persistently the way she did not go” (305). Due to Elsa’s prodding, however, Willie begins not only to appreciate art but also to practice an artistic craft. At her prompting, he starts work at a bookbindery, which precipitates the novel’s extensive examination of Arts and Crafts ideas. Here and throughout the novel, Underhill does not present a monolithic view of the Arts and Crafts movement. Instead, the novel shows that she satirizes distortions of the movement even as she makes its ideals central to the novel’s vision of spiritual maturity. At the bindery, Willie becomes romantically entangled with a young bookbinder, Mildred, who, like Elsa, illustrates how Arts and Crafts ideas can be superficially romanticized and, thereby, misappropriated. Mildred, however, subjugates those ideas not to aestheticism but to careerism. Mildred is smitten by the Arts and Crafts movement and has developed idealistic aspirations for her life based on the Arts and Crafts ideals she has read about in magazines. As the narrator observes: She hated gray walls and monotony and the mingled art and commerce of the bindery. She longed to escape to those higher circles of handicraft which are celebrated in the art magazine […]. Picturesque dress was only possible to her in the best materials. She had two ambitions – to become a member of the Arts and Crafts Society and buy her clothes at Liberty’s [160–1].

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Like Elsa, Mildred is a romantic, discontented with humdrum life. Unlike the bindery’s elder workman, Carter, she seems less interested in the joy of the work and more interested in the romantic life to which it might lead. Mildred is hobbled in her ability to enjoy either work or love by her cynical disregard for the ordinary, worldly things that seem vulgar to her. This is as evident in her attitude toward the bookbindery as it is in her attitude toward lovemaking with Willie. No sooner do she and Willie begin to kiss than “[a] sudden loathing of love and its vulgar accessories overcame her. It seemed to her that it was very like bookbinding – full of poetic charm when seen from outside, but made up, for those who chose to investigate its technic, of ordinary, sticky, even unpleasant, materials” (188). In this way, Mildred’s romanticism prevents her from being able to appreciate ordinary worldly things. Mildred’s real intention for pursuing Arts and Crafts work becomes clearer later in the novel in her conversation with the fellow bookbinder Tiddy, who eventually replaces Willie as her romantic partner. Mildred seeks reputation; she wants to be recognized for her work by exhibiting it at the Arts and Crafts exhibition (221), thereby gaining access to other trendsetters in the art world. Mildred views this as a “practical” attitude (229), but her practicality echoes Mr. Hopkinson’s careerism and differs from the practicality Underhill ultimately espouses. Tiddy likewise wants to be impressive, especially before Mildred. To her, “He spoke with vague grandeur of his theories of art, and hopes of their future success” (220). Mildred and Tiddy scorn Carter’s traditionalism and seem to want to update the bookbinding business to be “successful” (223). Tiddy claims, “[Y]ou must be arty, and you must be up to date” (223). These sentiments distort the views of the founding fathers of the Arts and Crafts movement, who sought to do something new, but only by integrating their original inspiration with past practices. Aside from Mildred and Tiddy, however, other aspects of the bookbinding workshop present a positive paradigm for Willie. The “flavor of past ages” about the workshop, which he recognizes as he is jolted back into “a less peaceful century” on the modern tram ride home, is exactly what Willie prizes (143). Furthermore, the elderly workman Carter, who is described as the “mainstay of the bindery” (137), serves as exemplar of a more authentic reception of Arts and Crafts ideas. Carter’s words and example pierce through the workshop’s “noise and muddle” (138) and help him to better understand the value of bookbinding. Willie perceives this wisdom in Carter’s attitude toward his craft: This was the first happy and honest workman whom he had met – the first who extracted the soul of labor from its outer shell by his attitude of steady reverence toward his craft. […] there was a sincere and beautiful connection between Carter and his work. With him it was a


Studies in Medievalism

manual religion, faithfully followed without any sordid thought. He felt slovenly work to be a sin toward his material as well as toward the master who paid him [140]. Here the language of religion cloaks Willie’s perception of Carter’s work, emphasizing the holy nature of his simple work. Notably, too, Carter is critical of facile aestheticism, either in craft-making or in craft reception: “He hated the showily finished bindings of cheap polished leather and facile tooling which visitors to the bindery thought so very artistic” (140), aiming instead for “good toolin’” and work that’s “solid” (142). Unlike Mildred and Tiddy, Willie appreciates Carter’s devotion to the lifelong process of good craftsmanship, forging a connection with Carter that Underhill characterizes as “the reaction of homely intuition on convinced idealism” (141). When Willie later describes Carter’s loving, honest attitude toward labor, Elsa perceives his attitude as “medieval,” for she observes, “He has quite the medieval tone of mind” (144). Willie inherits from Carter the idea that education in a craft is a lifelong endeavor, not something to be picked up in a few months (139). Most importantly, though, he comes to see the craft of bookbinding as creating a spiritual equilibrium he had long sought. As the narrator observes: He learned there for the first time in his life the meaning of his hands, and discovered their use. They gave his soul a new and inexplicable pleasure. Regular manual occupation steadied him, drawing off his earth energies and leaving his spirit clearer. As he sat at the sewing-press, or mechanically pared the edges of leather for the covers of his books, he meditated. Busy hands and dreaming soul balanced one another, and he felt sane, alive, untrameled [italics mine] [143]. This moment represents a pivotal stage in Willie’s spiritual bildungsroman. Insofar as he has been caught between two worlds – matter and spirit – and has long sought to reject the former to fulfill the latter, he discovers that the manual work of craftsmanship enables him to reconcile matter and spirit. In fact, through his work as a craftsman, his view of the material practice of art-making reshapes his view of the material world beyond art. He notices, “The symbolic rightness of the quiet work justified to him the existence of his body, and sometimes allowed him a glimpse of the gateway which leads to the heaven of the industrious” (143).42 Furthermore, Willie’s work in the 42

In Joy Dixon’s reading of The Gray World and its treatment of sexuality, Dixon sees the novel as supporting a flesh-rejecting, spirit-centric worldview, largely because of Willie’s rejection of Elsa’s sexual temptations and his ultimate decision to retreat as a solitary bookbinder to the secluded forest. This passage, however, illustrates that the craft of book

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bindery has the salutary effect not only of repairing the matter–spirit division that has so bedeviled him, but also of changing his mental disposition toward the world at large. The narrator observes, “Since Willie entered the bindery, he had become more patient, less assertive toward existence” (146). This description of Willie’s disposition aptly captures the symmetries between artistry and mysticism. To become a true craftsman is to develop habits of mind and hand that restore the soul to right relationship with the world. Although Willie subsequently experiences a period of additional errantry after his first experiences in the bindery, it is to bookbinding that he returns at the novel’s climax. For, at the end of the novel, he discovers his spiritual ideal in a widowed artist, Hester Waring, who lives as a hermit in the woods and practices crafts of painting and bookbinding. Willie finds in Hester’s life a refined version of Arts and Crafts ideals, not perverted by ambitiousness, conventionality, or social posturing. Even Hester’s workshop, nestled in the natural world away from urban life, captures a dimension of the ideal Arts and Crafts life. Cumming and Kaplan explain that for some Arts and Crafts designers, “belief in the restorative power of craftsmanship and the search for a ‘simple life’ led them to establish workshops in idyllic, rural surroundings where art was promoted as a way of life.”43 As Willie surveys Hester’s attic artist’s space, “Willie, one part craftsman, felt his heart going out to those clean, well-tended tools: knives, brushes, sizeand color-pots, all disposed with a loving touch which spoke of happy and deliberate labor” (334). Hester’s advice to Willie aptly articulates key facets of the novel’s Arts and Crafts ideals: [T]he joyous, significant life is so easy to get! So cheap! It’s only to live beautifully, laboriously, and austerely; in the air, with the light and color to remind you of the hidden beauty behind. And to work with your mind, soul, and body […]. You must love everything, don’t you see, because everything in the whole world is being offered to you as a symbol of an adorable idea that is beyond. It’s only when you’ve entered into loving alliance with the universe that you are making the most of life. Because flowers and trees live beautifully for you, it’s your duty to live beautifully for others. That’s the only law. You’ve got your moment of self-expression, and if you use it for ugliness you will die [335–6]. making provides Willie with an experience that begins to redeem not just the art object but Willie’s broader view of the body, reflecting an incipient sacramentalism characterized by experiencing divine Reality through the things of this world. Later in the novel, Willie’s doubts about the human body return in the seduction scene with Elsa, but his love of bookbinding keeps recalling him to a sense of the sacred potential of the material world. Dixon, “‘Dark Ecstasies’,” 685. 43 Cumming and Kaplan, Arts, 7.


Studies in Medievalism

Willie ultimately heeds Hester’s advice, and, much to the consternation of his family’s social circle back home, chooses to spend the rest of his life in the woodland refuge, crafting beautiful books and making the divine image real through his knives, brushes, and color pots. In this way, he lives into the ideal of creative work once imagined by Morris, finding pleasure in his work, working on useful products designed and created with integrity, and living in the pleasurable surroundings of the countryside, at one with the natural world. For, as Willie concludes, “I think the honest artist is very near to God” (350). The Soul as Tool Maker: Craft as the Sacramental Reconciliation of Matter and Spirit Underhill’s concluding vision of Willie as craftsman and artist offers important insights about her intellectual and spiritual development and the relationship between her early fiction and her later writings. The novel illuminates her views of art, her early efforts to reconcile the two worlds of matter and spirit through the art of craft-making, and the seeds of her practical spirituality. Earlier I noted that one of Underhill’s biographers, Dana Greene, calls her “the artist of the infinite life” because Underhill imagines the mystic as an artist. To say that Underhill regarded mysticism as analogous to artistry gives us valuable insight, but it takes us only part way toward understanding her thinking about mysticism and art. Her novels do not present a monolithic picture of art or its relationship to spirituality. Instead, she presents a novelized debate about that relationship, as she shifts between satire and idealization, challenging the reader to discern between true and false, authentic and inauthentic art. She is critical of certain kinds of artistry, with the aestheticism in vogue during her era subject to keen derision. Likewise, she highlights how people err in their appropriation of Arts and Crafts ideals when they are driven by egoism, careerism, or otherwise callow consumption of art. Yet, she simultaneously shares Arts and Crafts ideals and draws upon them to forge her own model of spiritual fulfillment. Of course, many of the key Arts and Crafts leaders were Socialists as well as artists, with a distinctive vision of transforming society through art.44 The designer Walter Crane articulated this ideal connection between art and society when he asserted, “[C]laiming for man this primitive and common delight in common things made beautiful, [the Arts and Crafts movement] makes, through art, the great socializer for a common and kindred life, for sympathetic and helpful fellowship, and demands conditions under which your artist and craftsman shall be free.”45 Living that creed, William Morris 44 45

Cumming and Kaplan, Arts, 7. Crane, “Revival,” 14.

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promoted such ideas through word and action in his vigorous efforts on behalf of the Socialist movement. As the scholar of Victorian literature Clive Wilmer notes about Morris, “Probably aestheticism had never satisfied him. What he wanted was the real world with its prelapsarian glow restored to it […]. It was in his work as a decorative artist that Morris first achieved this blend of the actual and the paradisal.”46 Underhill shared Morris’s dissatisfaction with aestheticism. But she differs from her Victorian forerunners in at least two key ways. First, unlike Morris, who gravitated away from any religious orientation or interest in a world beyond this one, Underhill remained anchored in a transcendent view of the universe, one in which art – even ordinary art – connects humans to divine Reality.47 Second, her vision in The Gray World, and indeed all of her fiction, was fundamentally individualistic rather than social. As Michael Stoeber observes, “She was not a socio-political activist” (132). 48 Unlike Morris, whose News from Nowhere renovates a medieval worldview in order to redeem the social order, Underhill represents lost medieval arts as a way of redeeming individual souls: Willie, retreating to the natural world, finds full flourishing by making books in the company of only one other like-minded soul, whereas Paul Vickery in The Lost Word spends most of that novel finding spiritual fulfillment through church building with a small coterie of like-minded craftspeople. 46

Wilmer, “Introduction,” xxvii. Unlike Morris, some Arts and Crafts leaders did explicitly connect their craftsmanship to a Divine Reality beyond. For instance, the bookbinder T. J. Cobden-Sanderson sounds very much like a mystic in his idealistic “Ecce Mundus” (1902), where he declares, “[M]an […] tends to become one with the universe, and the universe one with man, in point of WORK, so that ultimately man shall learn to work as the world works, on the grand scale, magnificently, & feel within himself, singing, the world’s great tune and rhythm.” Shortly thereafter, he concludes with the sublime exclamation, “ECCE MUNDUS ECCE COELUM.” T. J. Cobden-Sanderson, Ecce Mundus and the Arts and Crafts Movement (1902; repr. New York: Garland, 1977), paras. 35 and 40. The eminent Arts and Crafts architect William Lethaby expressed similar transcendent ideals, but about architecture, in his 1891 book: “The main purpose and burthen of sacred architecture – and all architecture […] is thus inextricably bound up with a people’s thoughts about God and the universe.” W. R. Lethaby, Architecture, Mysticism, and Myth (1891; reprinted with an introduction by Godfrey Rubens, London: Architectural Press Ltd., 1974), 2. 48 Michael Stoeber, “Evelyn Underhill on Magic, Sacrament, and Spiritual Transformation,” Worship 77.2 (2003): 132–51 (132). Underhill’s emphasis on the individual rather than society, particularly in her early writings, has elicited some criticism. For instance, despite respect for Underhill’s work, Grace Jantzen has asserted that “part of the legacy of Evelyn Underhill is the pervasive notion that spirituality can grow and flourish without attention to social justice or active efforts to dismantle oppressive structures,” a legacy Jantzen regards as “pernicious” (80–1). Although the sixteen-year-old Underhill once described herself as a Socialist (Jantzen, 79), Jantzen suggests that in the course of Underhill’s life “she did not get beyond individual charity to working against unjust structures” (96). Grace M. Jantzen, “The Legacy of Evelyn Underhill,” Feminist Theology 2.4 (1993): 79–100. 47


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Still, Wilmer characterizes Morris in a way that illuminates Underhill’s indebtedness to him and others in the Arts and Crafts movement: Wilmer’s description of Morris as aiming to “blend […] the actual and the paradisal” through decorative art captures the central nexus between Underhill’s novel and the ideas she inherited from Arts and Crafts thinkers. Willie is immersed in the material world, but constantly remembers a transcendent world beyond. Over time, though, his craft enables him to reconcile those two worlds: the material substance of handcrafted books becomes a vehicle for him to experience God (350). In that regard, Willie’s bookbinding experiences serve as evidence of Underhill’s early sacramental thinking. Indeed, Underhill explicitly uses sacramental language in discussing the effect of craft-making on Willie’s soul. For instance, during his induction to the mysteries of bookbinding, she explains that: Willie, learning slowly – almost unconsciously – to treat his work as a sacrament which bore some mystic relation to truth, lost the constant itch to step from his path and hunt for solutions to the great conundrum. He had an inner content, equally removed from piety and despair, which anesthetized his spirit [146]. Much later he has a similar revelation after meditating upon an Italian painting of the Madonna and Christ child. In response, Willie “had a new vision of the world. He saw it as a shadow cast by divine beauty – a loveliness of which material beauty was the sacrament, the faint image thrown by God on the mirror of sense” (239). And he perceives art as a place where one experiences a “penetration of the visible by the real” (238). No doubt it is significant that Willie experiences this incarnational revelation while viewing a picture of the Madonna and Christ. Art, therefore, becomes the dialectical resolution of Willie’s matter–spirit dilemma, a resolution Underhill signifies by quoting Hegel at the head of the chapter where Willie views the Italian painting. “The Beautiful,” she quotes, “is essentially the Spiritual making itself known sensuously” (231). Willie’s growing appreciation of material things as sacraments is echoed many years later in Underhill’s discussion of the term “sacramental.” In a 1925 letter addressed to W. Y., she counsels one of her spiritual students to adopt a “more sacramental type of religion,” pausing thereafter to define sacramentalism in a particularly expansive way.49 She notes that she does not use sacramentalism to denote just “‘music, beauty, and liturgy,’” which she calls the “chocolate-creams of religion.”50 Instead she explains, “By sacramentalism 49

The Letters of Evelyn Underhill, ed. Charles Williams (1943; repr. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1991), 168. 50 Underhill, Letters, ed. Williams, 168.

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I mean the humble acceptance of grace through the medium of things – God coming into our souls by means of humblest accidents – the intermingling of spirit and sense. This is the corrective – one of the correctives – needed by your tendency to ‘loftiness’.”51 This view of sacramentalism, offered almost twenty years after the publication of her first novel, is prefigured in the story of Willie’s journey from the lofty heights of ghostly experience in the gray world to the humble level of a bookbinder’s workshop. To suggest that the seeds of Underhill’s sacramental thinking were sown in the early 1900s in response to her Arts and Crafts work runs counter to the typical narrative offered about her spiritual development. In Todd Johnson’s “Evelyn Underhill Primer,” a review of her life and work, Johnson recounts how her spiritual mentor in the early 1920s, Baron Friedrich von Hügel, tried, at first unsuccessfully, to draw her to a sacramental theology: “Where von Hügel could ground his sacramentality in the incarnation of Christ, Underhill’s avoidance of the preexistence of the Word left her no mooring for a sacramental principle. Underhill had yet to complete her theology.”52 In his review, Johnson pays scant attention to her fiction and makes no mention of her intercourse with the Arts and Crafts movement. 53 Like Johnson, John R. Francis describes her spiritual development as a “movement from […] Neoplatonism toward an incarnational and sacramental life,”54 with Neoplatonism defining the decade during which she wrote fiction and with sacramentalism emerging much later in her career. Based on his assessment of her fiction between 1902 to 1905, he describes her spirituality in this early stage as “esoteric, spiritistic, and neoplatonic,” suggesting that her Christian 51 Underhill,

Letters, ed. Williams, 168. Todd Johnson, “Anglican Writers at Century’s End: An Evelyn Underhill Primer,” Anglican Theological Review 80.3 (1998): 402–13 (408). 53 In a different article on Underhill’s pneumatological development, Johnson reiterates this assessment, adding that Underhill does not clearly distinguish early on between symbols and sacraments: “While von Hügel could span a sacramental bridge between the divine and human spheres by anchoring it in the Incarnation of Christ, Underhill was left without such a sacramental principle because of her continued reluctance to accept Christ’s pre-existence. The result was an attempt to define God’s presence in the world in universal terms without any specific point of reference, resulting in a lack of distinction between symbols which point to God and sacraments through which one encounters God.” While Johnson is right to observe a blurring of theological distinctions in Underhill’s early work, it is important to note that there are several instances in The Gray World when Willie seems actually to experience the Divine through art or craft as opposed to seeing it as a mere symbol of the Divine. And, as we have seen, Underhill herself uses the word “sacrament” in relationship to Willie’s experiences as a craftsman. Todd E. Johnson, “Evelyn Underhill’s Pneumatology: Origins and Implications,” The Downside Review 116.403 (1998): 109–36 (114). 54 John R. Francis, “Evelyn Underhill’s Developing Spiritual Theology: A Discovery of Authentic Spiritual Life and the Place of Contemplation,” Anglican Theological Review 93.2 (2011): 283–300 (283–84). 52


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journey does not begin until 1907,55 three years after the publication of The Gray World. Like Johnson and other interpreters of Underhill’s career, Francis attributes Underhill’s sacramental shift to her work on Jacopone da Todi in 1918 and to the mentorship of von Hügel.56 These accounts have become standard for scholars charting the trajectory of Underhill’s spiritual development.57 Certainly, there is ample evidence in the correspondence between Underhill and von Hügel of his attempts to attract her to a “more incarnational, Christocentric, and sacramental spirituality.”58 And there is no question that her early thinking is marked by Neoplatonism as much as by other philosophical and theological inspirations. However, Jeffrey Kripal raises a crucial question about her theological shift when he wonders, “But perhaps such a ‘descent’ from the mystical heights, cats and all, was there all along in Underhill’s person and writing.”59 For Kripal, whose analysis focuses on Underhill’s conception of mystical love, it is her ordinary marriage with Hubert that prompts this question and suggests an earlier rootedness in sacramental theology. For Michael Stoeber, it is her early interests in Hermeticism and magic that “play a significant role in the development of her mystical and sacramental theologies.”60 I argue, however, that there are traces of her sacramental theology in her earliest novel in her presentation of art as mediated by the Arts and Crafts movement, for there she imaginatively explores how the practical things of this world can serve as vehicles for experiencing the Divine. In that regard, Armstrong is right to identify Underhill’s life process as one of “progressive incarnation,” and he even concedes, “Not that the incarnational and sacrificial idea is not present from near the beginning: it is, and strongly.”61 Indeed, it is there in her early fiction, catalyzed by the Arts and Crafts movement. However, an understanding of the Arts and Crafts movement as a shaping influence illuminates far more than the development of Underhill’s sacramental theology; it also sheds light on the distinctively practical nature of her spirituality.62 Much has rightly been made about Underhill’s “practical 55

Francis, “Developing,” 285. Francis, “Developing,” 284. 57 See also, among others, Dixon, “Dark Ecstasies,” 655, and Nadia Delicata, “Evelyn Underhill’s Quest for the Holy: A Lifetime Journey of Personal Transformation,” Anglican Theological Review 88.4 (2006): 519–36 (535). 58 Jeffrey Kripal, “Eyeing the Burning Wings: Analyzing the Mystical Experience of Love in Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism (1911),” in Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom: Eroticism and Reflexivity in the Study of Mysticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 33–84 (83). 59 Kripal, “Eyeing,” 83. 60 Stoeber, “Magic,” 135. 61 Armstrong, Evelyn Underhill, xv. 62 Many years ago, Clay Kinsner observed that we are just beginning to understand the 56

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mysticism.” This practicality must have derived in part from her temperament. But I would suggest that Underhill’s contact with the Arts and Crafts movement, with its emphasis on creative, useful work, significantly shaped the practical orientation of her spirituality. That practical emphasis remained with Underhill throughout her career. It is obvious in the denouement of The Gray World as well as in her other novels. In The Lost Word, Paul Vickery substitutes devotion to domestic marriage for life as an architect at the end of his quest, and in The Column of Dust, Constance ultimately abandons occult experimentation and sacrifices her life for her dirty, messy daughter, Vera. Underhill’s practicality emerges even more explicitly in her 1914 book Practical Mysticism, a how-to guide in which she aims to “suggest the practical conditions under which ordinary persons may participate in [the mystics’] experience.”63 And years later, her practical orientation is evident in the counsel she offers to her spiritual followers. For instance, in a letter written on May 5, 1930, Underhill advises her correspondent to “be a tool” for God and to pray primarily “to be useful to Him first and always” rather than to “see Him.”64 Given the many instances of such advice in Underhill’s writing, it is not surprising that, of all the characteristics Annice Callahan enumerates to define Underhill’s spirituality, she lists first practicality: “meeting God in daily life: seeing the spiritual in the practical.”65 Not all readers have recognized this strong practical dimension. For instance, in Nadia Delicata’s analysis of Underhill’s concept of holiness, Delicata suggests that Underhill privileged “intellectual prowess” as a path to holiness, leading her “to neglect other channels to holiness – her feelings, her intuition, her body, and the people whom she encountered.”66 No doubt Underhill’s novel The Gray World illustrates her character Willie “trying on” different intellectual paths to holiness and often finding fragments rather than wholeness or holiness. However, as Underhill’s “growing-up” story about that mystically inclined bookbinder illustrates, holiness comes as much impact of mystical texts on “other forms of literature” (176), but, I would suggest, a study of Underhill’s fiction reveals that the reverse is true as well; in other words, we are just beginning to understand the impact of different forms of art on mysticism or, more broadly, spirituality. Clay Kinsner, “The Female Mystics, Women’s Studies, and the Negotiations of Discourse,” Studies in Medievalism X: Medievalism and the Academy II, ed. David Metzger (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1998), 164–83. 63 Underhill, Practical, 16. 64 Underhill, Letters, ed. Williams, 188. 65 Annice Callahan, Evelyn Underhill: Spirituality for Daily Living (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1997), 230. 66 Delicata, “Evelyn Underhill’s Quest, ” 521. In different terms, Justine McCarthy (“Edges of the Mind,” 85) claims that Underhill’s early work is characterized by “spiritual elitism” and a “disparaging of the ordinary.” “Her early mysticism,” McCarthy asserts, “was practical in method but not in application” because of her “unconcern with improving anything in the visible universe.”


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through the practical work of one’s hands as through the mental gymnastics of the mind. Ultimately, I would suggest that Underhill’s love of the bookbinding craft, which she inherited from medieval tradition and bequeathed to her protagonist and alter-ego Willie, kept returning her from intellectual rejection of the material world, opening a path toward the reconciliation of worlds once perceived as opposed. If, then, as Underhill came to claim, God comes to us a tool maker, ready with his work clothes and tools, she even earlier envisioned the soul as craftsman – a craftsman who found the divine convergence of matter and spirit through the homely tools of everyday trade.

Exhuming the Living Dead: The Anchoresses of Chris Newby and Robyn Cadwallader  Karen A. Winstead Between 1100 and 1539 at least 414 women in England elected to serve God by becoming anchoresses, that is, by spending their lives in a cell, or anchorhold, often attached to a parish church.1 The candidate anchoress had to convince her bishop that she was mentally suited to lifelong confinement; at the enclosure ceremony, the Office of the Dead was intoned to signify symbolic death and burial.2 Though symbolically dead to the world, anchoresses had opportunities that were unavailable to them when they were “alive.” Donors supplied their material needs, while a servant, or servants, brought them food, drink, clean clothes, etc., and likewise emptied the chamber pot 1

Ann K. Warren, Anchorites and their Patrons in Medieval England (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 20, Table 1. Though anchoritism was also practiced by men, Warren’s statistics indicate that there were more than twice as many anchoresses than anchorites, perhaps because men had more options for pursuing religious vocations. Warren’s table indicates that the gender of an additional 165 documented anchorites could not be determined. A number of anchorholds remain. See Michelle M. Sauer’s fascinating essay on the repurposing of these structures, “Extra-Temporal Place Attachment and Adaptive Reuse: The Afterlives of Medieval English Anchorholds,” Studies in Medievalism XXV: Medievalism and Modernity, ed. Karl Fugelso (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2016), 173–96. 2 On the anchoritic experience in England, see Warren, Anchorites and Their Patrons; Tom Licence, Hermits and Recluses in English Society, 950–1200 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); Roberta Gilchrist, Gender and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Religious Women (London: Routledge, 1994), 177–81; Mari Hughes-Edwards, “Anchoritism: The English Tradition,” in Anchoritic Traditions of Medieval Europe, ed. Liz Herbert McAvoy (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2010), 131–52; and E. A. Jones, “Ceremonies of Enclosure: Rite, Rhetoric and Reality,” in Rhetoric of the Anchorhold: Space, Place and Body within the Discourses of Enclosure, ed. Liz Herbert McAvoy (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2008), 34–49. Studies in Medievalism XXIX, 2019


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and took away dirty laundry. Though their days were unhampered by the formal rules that structured the lives of monks or nuns, guidebooks enjoined anchoresses to regulate themselves.3 The myriad “don’ts” enumerated in such guides indicate the possibilities open to the “dead”: the anchoress should not entertain guests, teach children, run a business, or accept monetary donations; she could own a cat, but no livestock (“It is a hateful thing, Christ knows, when people in a town complain about an anchoress’ animals!”).4 It is little wonder that the clergy sought to thus regulate anchoritic behavior, for living beside the parish church meant being in the center of the community. A frivolous anchoress who whiled away her time gossiping might herself become the subject of gossip; a pious anchoress could accrue such renown that her moral standing might rival the parish priest’s; an anchoress who accepted money from devout laypeople would have the means to compete with the priest for influence and prestige within the parish. Anchoritism may have inspired the fantasies of Romantic-era novelists who depicted women buried alive in church walls as punishment for some transgression.5 It certainly inspired, from the late twentieth century onwards, a particularly rich scholarship.6 Feminist scholars, in particular, have sought to elucidate the appeal of the anchoritic vocation for women. Far from being a death sentence, becoming an anchoress gave women an option besides marriage or a convent, one that conferred esteem and allowed for considerable 3

Warren lists and describes these rules in Appendix 2 of Anchorites and Their Patrons, 294–8. See also Mari Hughes-Edwards, “Anchoritism” and Reading Medieval Anchoritism: Ideology and Spiritual Practices (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2012). 4 Anchoritic Spirituality: Ancrene Wisse and Associated Works, trans. Anne Savage and Nicholas Watson (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1991), 201; the original reads, “ladlich þing is hit wat crist hwen me makeð i tune man of ancre ahte,” Ancrene Wisse, ed. J. R. R. Tolkien, Early English Text Society [EETS] original series 249 (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), 213. 5 On the popularity of these stories during the Romantic period, see Clare A. Simmons, Popular Medievalism in Romantic-Era Britain (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 141–65. 6 See, for example, Warren, Anchorites and Their Patrons; Hughes-Edwards, Reading Medieval Anchoritism; Liz Herbert McAvoy, Medieval Anchoritisms: Gender, Space and the Solitary Life (Woodbridge: D. S. Brewer, 2011); Licence, Hermits and Recluses; and the essays in Rhetoric of the Anchorhold, in Anchoritism in the Middle Ages: Texts and  Traditions, ed. Catherine Innes-Parker and Naoë Kukita Yoshikawa (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2013), Medieval Anchorites in Their Communities, ed. Cate Gunn and Liz Herbert McAvoy (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2017), and in the special issue dedicated to anchoritism edited by Michelle M. Sauer, The Journal of Medieval Religious Cultures 42.1 (2016). The foundation for this later scholarship was Rotha Mary Clay, The Hermits and Anchorites of England (London: Methuen, 1914). For Continental anchoritism, see Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker, Lives of the Anchoresses: The Rise of the Urban Recluse in Medieval Europe, trans. Myra Heerspink Scholz (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005); and the essays in Anchoritic Traditions of Medieval Europe, ed. McAvoy.

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intellectual and spiritual freedom. Indeed, enclosure could be, paradoxically, liberating: it gave the anchoress “a room of her own”; instead of isolating her from the community, it allowed her, to a significant extent, to participate in communal life on her own terms.7 The anchoritic life has inspired relatively few modern popularizations. Arnold Wesker’s play Caritas (1980) and Paul L. Moorcraft’s novel Anchoress of Shere (2000) were based on the story of Christine Carpenter, a fourteenth-century anchoress of Shere, Surrey, who left her anchorhold but later petitioned for re-enclosure.8 Both of these works represent enclosure as a bleak fate. More aligned with current trends in scholarship are two modern fictions that present not only the rigors but the rewards of “live burial”: Chris Newby’s 1993 film Anchoress, also about Christine Carpenter, and Robyn Cadwallader’s 2015 novel The Anchoress, about a fictional thirteenth-century anchoress named Sarah.9 While both acknowledge the psychological and physical challenges of being an anchoress, they also show that the vocation liberated women spiritually, imaginatively, and even sexually. Both are deeply researched, founding their depiction of anchoritic life on archaeology and iconography as well as on texts written for and about anchoresses. Particularly important for both is the Ancrene Wisse, a guide for anchoresses composed in Middle English during the first quarter of the thirteenth century.10 Traversing the boundary between fiction and criticism, they might usefully be understood as “creative criticism,” a species of literary criticism much as “creative non-fiction” is a species of creative writing.11 As I am construing it, creative criticism differs from well-researched historical fiction in that it not only uses texts to construct, insofar as is feasible, a historically authentic world but also 7

Elizabeth Robertson makes the connection between the medieval anchorhold and Virginia Woolf’s “room of one’s own” in “An Anchorhold of Her Own: Female Anchoritic Literature in Thirteenth-Century England,” in Equally in God’s Image: Women in the Middle Ages, ed. Julia Bolton Holloway, Constance S. Wright, and Joan Bechtold (New York: Peter Lang, 1990), 170–83. 8 Paul L. Moorcraft, Anchoress of Shere (Scottsdale, AZ: Poisoned Pen Press, 2002); and Arnold Wesker, Caritas (London: Jonathan Cape, 1981). 9 Judith Stanley-Smith and Christine Watkins, Anchoress, directed by Chris Newby, performed by Natalie Morse, Gene Bervoets, Toyah Wilcox, Peter Postlethwaite, and Christopher Eccleston (1993; New York: Vanguard, 2000), DVD; Robyn Cadwallader, The Anchoress: A Novel (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015). The novel was published in Australia by HarperCollins, in the United Kingdom by Faber and Faber, in the United States by Farrer, Straus and Giroux, and in France by Gallimard. 10 For an introduction to this important work with a synopsis of editions, translations, and major scholarship, see Cate Gunn, “Ancrene Wisse, and the Katherine and Wooing Groups,” British and Irish Literature, Oxford Bibliographies, , last modified March 31, 2016; last accessed July 19, 2018. 11 I should note that Cadwallader works in conventional literary criticism, too, having published a monograph, Three Methods for Reading the Thirteenth-Century Seinte Marherete (Lewistown, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2008).


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interprets the sources it uses, weighing in on issues that also engage cultural historians and literary critics.12 Both Anchoresses, as I will argue, interpret the Ancrene Wisse as they explore the relation of past and present. Their diverging approaches to rendering the past in narrative are very much aligned with the approaches to rendering the past in scholarship during the 1990s and 2010s, respectively. As fictions, both present their material in ways that will resonate with modern audiences, bringing out issues their readers and viewers care deeply about and interpreting the present as they “study” the past. Common to both works, though differently executed, is a feminist agenda that aims to expose the structures of a “medieval” patriarchy that oppresses women, dehumanizes men, and is not, alas, a thing of the past. Christine’s Story All we know of the historical Christine Carpenter is derived from three letters written in Latin by John de Stratford, bishop of Winchester.13 The first, dated July 11, 1329, orders an investigation into whether Christine, daughter of William the Carpenter, who “desires to vow herself […] to perpetual chastity” and “to be enclosed” in “a narrow place in the churchyard next to the parish church of Shere,” is “of such a good upbringing and life that she is likely to make a success of this more saintly life.”14 The second, dated August 14, 1329, licenses Christine’s enclosure. The third, dated November 10, 1332, grants Christine’s petition to be reinstated in her anchorhold: “We order and command that the aforementioned Christine shall be thrust down [detrudetur] into the said reclusory” so that “with suitable care and competent vigilance” she might understand “how nefarious was that sin that she committed.”15 Who was this Christine of Shere? Why did she want to become an anchoress? Why did she leave her cell – and, perhaps even more puzzling to us as modern voyeurs, why did she wish to return to her “grave”? Chris Newby envisions a teenager drawn to a statue of the Virgin Mary in her church and encouraged by the parish priest to seek enclosure despite the objections of her 12

Of course, there can be no clear-cut boundary between well-researched historical fiction and creative criticism; whether a historical fiction might also be considered creative criticism is a judgment call. Nor, of course, am I denying that conventional literary criticism is at its best a creative endeavor. 13 On Christina’s life, see Liz Herbert McAvoy, “Gender, Rhetoric and Space in the Speculum Inclusorum, Letter to a Bury Recluse and the Strange Case of Christina Carpenter,” in Rhetoric of the Anchorhold, 111–26. McAvoy provides a full translation of these Latin documents as an appendix to the volume: “The Letters Concerning the Enclosure of Christina Carpenter,” 221–4. 14 “Letters,” 221. 15 “Letters,” 224.

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mother, Pauline, who wants her to marry the Reeve.16 Pauline remonstrates with her daughter – “What are you going to find in a wall? […] In a wall, Christine, forever and ever and ever” – but in vain. After undergoing the standard interrogation, Christine receives the Bishop’s approval; on a rainy day, bells toll, the Bishop pronounces her dead, and his assistant bricks over the window to her cell as her mother weeps and the Reeve and the villagers numbly look on. Pauline’s specter of her daughter “in the wall” and the somberness of the enclosure scene would thrill a Romantic novelist. But Anchoress goes on to show the pleasure that the anchoritic life affords Christina. Though she is shown being imbricated into her cell, she has a window to the outside world. The sun shines through that window, and she delights in making shadow animals with her hands. She relishes the sounds of the birds and the sight of the goats grazing in the fields. She radiates pleasure as she awakens sexually, following an old leper woman’s advice to “embrace your body.” Visitors bring her fruit, bread, and soup, blankets in the winter and flowers in the summer; they confide in her and seek her advice. She dances and hums within her cell while the villagers make merry without. She is not alone. Her window allows her to converse with, to laugh with, and to touch loved ones and petitioners; for privacy or protection from unwelcome visitors, she can bar her window with an iron grate and pull down a heavy curtain, as she does when the Reeve comes calling. Even her mother grudgingly concedes that living in a wall might not be such a bad fate: “You know I envy you sometimes,” she smiles wryly during one of her visits. “You’re no fool.” As Anchoress presents it, the censorious parish Priest rather than the rigors of anchoritic life drive Christine from her cell: she becomes increasingly despondent as he corrects her visions and criticizes her embroidery.17 The Virgin wears blue, not red, he snaps: “remove those sinful stitches.” Christine should be embroidering saints or scenes from the Bible rather than villagers, he later complains. When she tells him a figure he takes for Eve is actually “Christine Carpenter,” he reaches through her window to wrest the cloth from her hands. Shortly thereafter, we see her digging a hole in the ground. Though she basks in sunlit fields after she has escaped her anchorhold, she apparently does not want to spend her life frolicking in the meadows. Departing from one of the few facts we know about the historical Christine, Newby has his anchoress petition the Bishop to be released from her vows so that she can seek the Virgin where she truly lives, not in the church but in the 16

I capitalize Reeve, Priest, Bishop, and Drover because they are identified thus in the film, even though historical sources identify the Priest and Bishop by name. 17 For an alternative reading that attributes Christine’s growing unhappiness to the effects of enclosure, see Christopher Roman, “Teaching the Politics of Mysticism through Film,” Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy 15 (2004): 107–14.


Studies in Medievalism

ground: “You lied,” she tells the Bishop, “the church is not her house. […] her house is in the ground.” The film concludes ambiguously with Christine being thrust through a trap door beside the episcopal throne and roaming rapturously through a cavern beneath the cathedral. Newby’s depiction of the anchoritic experience draws heavily on medieval artifacts, written, material, and visual. The Bishop recites medieval rites of enclosure in the original Latin, even as Newby translates from parchment to celluloid a representation of the ceremony in a miniature from a late-­ medieval manuscript (Figs. 1–2). At the end of the film, the Bishop’s response to Christine’s petition quotes bits of John de Stratford’s letter (in English translation) almost verbatim: “She must be reinterred. The anchoress must be prevented from being torn to pieces by attacks of the tempter. She must learn how grievous a sin it is to break the oath she has so solemnly undertaken.”18 The context, however, is wholly different, since the film’s Christine wants to be released from her vows rather than reinstated in her anchorhold. The historical bishop’s words, repurposed to deny rather than to grant her petition, contribute to the movie’s overall representation of a Church deaf to the needs and the entreaties of the faithful.19 To much the same end, the movie repurposes the Ancrene Wisse, the earliest surviving English-language rule for anchoresses, whose unknown author addresses three “dear sisters” (“leoue sustren”) whom he knows personally and professes to care for deeply.20 Despite his professions of fondness, he 18

The corresponding portion of the letter, as translated from the Latin by McAvoy, reads, “we order and command that the aforementioned Christina shall be thrust down [detrudetur] into the said reclusory and that […] duly reinstated she might know […] how nefarious was the sin that she committed. […] Nor should the said Christina wander from the laudable purpose which otherwise she solemnly assumed and […] be torn to pieces by the bites of the Waylayer” (“Letters,” 224). 19 Miri Rubin, “An English Anchorite: The Making, Unmaking and Remaking of Christine Carpenter,” in Pragmatic Utopias: Ideals and Communities, 1200–1630, ed. Rosemary Horrox and Sarah Rees Jones (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 204–23. This insightful article examines the film’s engagement with, and departures from, historical records pertaining to Christine Carpenter and to medieval anchoritism in England generally. 20 For quotations and parenthetical references, I am using the translation by Savage and Watson of Ancrene Wisse in Anchoritic Spirituality, 41–207, and J. R. R. Tolkien’s edition of the MS. Corpus Christi College Cambridge 402 (both cited in note 4 above). I have silently normalized the punctuation in Tolkien’s edition and expanded the abbreviations. Much scholarship has been devoted to reconstructing the original and subsequent audiences of the Ancrene Wisse and the related texts constituting the so-called “Katherine Group” and “Wooing Group.” E. J. Dobson claimed to have identified the Wisse’s author and the three sisters he addresses in The Origins of Ancrene Wisse (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976). The details of Dobson’s thesis have been challenged, but much of what he says about the culture that produced the Ancrene Wisse remains useful, as Christopher Cannon has discussed in The Grounds of English Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press,

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Fig. 1: Bishop blessing an anchoress. Parker Library, CCCC MS 79, fol. 96r. By permission of the Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

obsesses about women’s innate sinfulness and urges his readers to practice extreme vigilance. They should avoid looking beyond their cells, especially to watch “wrestling and other silly games” (165) (“wreastlunge & oðre fol 2004), 139–71. Scholarship on the historical and the implied audiences includes Bella Millett, “Women in No Man’s Land: English Recluses and the Development of Vernacular Literature in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries,” in Women and Literature in Britain, 1150–1500, ed. Carol M. Meale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 86–103; Lesley Johnson and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, “National, World, and Women’s History: Writers and Readers of English in Post-Conquest England,” in The Cambridge History of English Literature, ed. David Wallace (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 92–121; Elizabeth Robertson, “‘This Living Hand’: Thirteenth-Century Female Literacy, Materialist Immanence, and the Reader of the Ancrene Wisse,” Speculum 78 (2003): 1–36; and the essays in A Companion to Ancrene Wisse, ed. Yoko Wada (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2003).


Studies in Medievalism

Fig. 2: Christine Carpenter’s enclosure. Anchoress. Dir. Chris Newby (photo: author).

gomenes” [163]). They should not “snack” on fruit or anything else between meals (206) (“Bitweone mel ne gru[ch]esi ȝe nawt, nowðer frut ne oðerhwet” [219–20]). They should be wary of friends, who might be the devil in disguise. They should not chat, tease, joke, or play frivolous games at their window. “Peeping” (“totinde”), “news-greedy” (“hercwile”), and “gossipy” (“speokele”) anchoresses shame their profession (Savage and Watson, 85; Tolkien, 53). They should mistrust all men (even the bishop and other clergymen), advise only women, and refrain from touching their visitors: “Whenever you have to give something to anyone, let your hand not go out nor theirs in; but if it has to come in, neither must touch each other” (72) (“Hwen se ȝe moten to eani mon eawiht biteachen, þe hond ne cume nawt

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ut, ne ower ut ne his in. Ant ȝef hit mot cumen in, ne rine nowðer oþer,” [34]); joining hands is strictly prohibited.21 Needless to say, anchoresses are not to touch themselves, or others, sexually: “sorry she may be who, without a companion or with, has so fed the offspring of her lustfulness which I may not speak of for shame” (124) (“Ah sari mei ha beon þe bute fere oðer wið haueð swa ifed cundel of hire galnesse þat ich ne mei speoken of for scheome” [107]).22 The Ancrene Wisse’s don’ts constitute much of what Newby’s Christine does, from nibbling fruit to laughing with friends at her window. Shots of her touching and joining hands with visitors, male and female, pervade the film. She not only touches herself, she embroiders the Virgin Mary masturbating. The only time we see Christine following one of the guide’s precepts is when she begins to dig a hole in the floor of her cell. The Wisse-author instructs the anchoress to dirty her fine white hands by “scraping the earth up every day out of the pit she must rot in!” (91–2) (“ha schulden schrapien euche dei þe eorð up of hare put þat ha schulien rotien in” [62]). Anchoresses were often interred in their cells. Digging the grave she will be buried in is meant to remind the anchoress that she shall never leave her anchorhold; Christine perverts the instruction and its goal by digging her way out of her m ­ etaphorical grave to freedom. Newby’s Priest voices the Ancrene Wisse’s prohibitions: “Beware of touch, Anchoress of Shere,” he barks to Christine as he slaps her mother’s hands away from her. Ignoring Christine’s objection that “she [i.e., the Virgin Mary] touches us,” he continues, “touch is the root that reaches the fire of hell; remember your lessons.” The Wisse-author, after inveighing against the dangers of looking, imagines “someone” challenging him: “But do you think […] that I will leap on him just because I look at him?” God knows, dear sister, stranger things have happened. Eve your mother leapt after her eyes, from the eye to the apple, from the apple in paradise down to earth, from earth to hell, where she lay in prison four thousand years and more, she and her husband both, and condemned all her offspring to leap after her to death without end. (68) 21

For more on joining hands, see Savage and Watson, 91, and Tolkien, 62. Even as the Ancrene Wisse prohibits touching, it acknowledges, as Stephanie Trigg notes, “that comfort and pleasure are to be derived from casual physical contact,” “Learning to Live,” in Oxford Twenty-First Century Approaches to Literature: Middle English, ed. Paul Strohm (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 459–75 (472). 22 Robert Mills discusses the Ancrene Wisse’s attempt to “rein in” (14) all sexual impulses – hetero, homo, and auto – in “Gender, Sodomy, Friendship, and the Medieval Anchorhold,” Journal of Medieval Religious Cultures 6 (2010): 1–27; for the text’s fixation on sexuality, see also Lisa Farina, Erotic Discourse and Early English Religious Writing (New York: Palgrave, 2006), 35–61.


Studies in Medievalism

[Me wenest tu, seið sum, þet ich wulle leapen on him þah ich loki on him? Godd wat, leoue suster, mare wunder ilomp. Eue þi moder leop efter hire ehnen, from þe ehe to þe eappel, from þe eappel iparais dun to þer eorðe, from þe eorðe to helle, þer ha lei i prisun fowr þusent ȝer & mare, heo & hire were ba, & demde al hire ofsprung to leapen al efter hire to deað wið uten ende. (32)] Newby literalizes the Wisse-author’s hypothetical scenario. When the Priest finds Christine laughing with her friend the Drover, he snaps, “You should not have looked at him.” “You think I shall leap upon him because I look at him?” she retorts, to which he admonishes her to think of Eve. Another of his harangues – “Do not follow the stinking dog to the field. Keep your hands, eyes, and thoughts within this cell, and when you see the dog of temptation creeping upon you seize the crucifix and order her out” – is lifted directly from the medieval guide: “as soon as you ever notice this dog of hell come sneaking […] seize the staff of the cross right away […] and order him out sternly” (154) (“sone se þu eauer underȝetest þet tes dogge of helle cum snakerinde […] nim anan þe rode steaf […] & hat him ut heterliche” [149–50]). Note, though, that in the mouth of Anchoress’s misogynist Priest, the “he”-dog of hell has become a “she.” The Priest loathes women’s “snaky” bodies and orifices; the Wisse-author likens a woman’s face to that of a snake and her nostrils to privy-holes.23 Christine’s weak-willed father, William, under the Priest’s influence, also ventriloquizes the Ancrene Wisse when he admonishes his wife, “If an animal falls into an uncovered pit and rots there, the woman who left the pit uncovered will be guilty before God of the animal’s death and be condemned to eternal hell.” The Wisse-author wrote, “The judgment is very severe on whomever uncovers the pit, for she must pay for the animal that has fallen in. She is guilty of that animal’s death before our Lord, and must answer for his soul on Doomsday” (69).24 The apple and the bird, two of the movie’s most pervasive motifs, are drawn straight from the Ancrene Wisse.25 Or perhaps more accurately redrawn. For the Wisse-author, the apple is the forbidden fruit eaten by Eve, which “symbolizes all the things that desire and the delight of sin turn to” (67) (“bitacneð alle þe wa þet lust falleð to & delit of sunne” [31]). To be sure, we find in Anchoress this conventional association of the apple with corruption and sin. The Reeve likens Christine to a “rotten apple.” The Priest compares her to 23

Savage and Watson, 124, 149; Tolkien, 107, 142. This passage is missing from the Corpus manuscript edited by Tolkien (it would have been on page 33). Savage and Watson supply the missing text from MS. Cotton Cleopatra (Anchoritic Spirituality, 349–50 n. 14). 25 These and other recurring images can be traced in the Concordance to Ancrene Wisse: MS Corpus Christi College Cambridge 402, ed. Jennifer Potts, Lorna Stevenson, and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1993). 24

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Eve, the original apple-picker and “mother of all wickedness.” One scene shows Christine lying naked in her cell, an apple beside her; as she sleeps, we hear the Priest’s voice, presumably wafting in from the adjoining church, ranting about how Eve caused the “noble Adam” to sin. Yet symbols are multivalent, and the Priest knows how to manipulate them. At the beginning of the movie, Christine offers a bushel of apples to a statue of the Virgin Mary in the parish church. The Reeve demands their return – the apples belong to the lord of the manor – but the Priest declares that they are now the Lady’s apples and may not leave the church except as alms. Gesturing toward a wall painting of Eve taking the apple, he says, “If Eve, the mother of all wickedness, had not taken the apple then God would not have given us Mary, the mother of all goodness. And therefore let us be glad the apple was taken.” Apples, then, can have positive valences, which Anchoress draws out as dexterously as the Priest. Apples repeatedly underscore the choices Christine makes – particularly, her liberating transgressions. When, before she has resolved to become an anchoress, her suitor the Reeve offers her an apple (perhaps an apology for his outburst about the stolen bushel?) she feeds it to his horse. The message is clear: she wants neither his apple nor his hand. (The Reeve then offers an apple to Christine’s sister, Meg, who accepts the gift and ends up marrying the giver.) Christine munches an apple in her anchorhold as she embroiders a design that she knows will infuriate the Priest. Before she joins the line outside the cathedral to petition the Bishop, she shares an apple with the Drover, then tosses it aside. Christine is most emphatically not her apple-picking foremother. When she declares that she is “not sorry” she took the lord’s apples, the camera cuts to a close-up of Eve, as represented on the church mural, covering her face with her hands in apparent remorse. To read the Ancrene Wisse is to meander through an aviary.26 True ­anchoresses, the author writes, are like birds: because they leave the earth – that is, the love of all worldly things – and, through yearning in their hearts for heavenly things, fly upward toward heaven. And though they fly high, in their high and holy life, they nonetheless keep their heads low with mild humility – as a flying bird keeps its head down – think all the good that they do is as nothing. […] The wings that bear them upwards, these are good habits that they must beat into good works as the bird beats its wings when it wants to fly. […] True anchoresses […] spread their wings and make a cross of 26

On the avian imagery and its significance, see Mary Agnes Edsall, “True Anchoresses are Called Birds: Asceticism as Ascent and the Purgative Mysticism of the Ancrene Wisse,” Viator 34 (2003): 157–86, and James F. Maybury, “On the Structure and Significance of Part III of the Ancrene Riwle, with Some Comments on Sources,” American Benedictine Review 28 (1977): 95–101.


Studies in Medievalism

themselves as a bird does when it flies – that is, in the thoughts of the heart and in the bitterness of the flesh they carry God’s cross. (97) [Treowe ancres beoð briddes icleopede, for ha leaueð þe eorðe, þet is þe luue of alle worltliche þinges, & þurh ȝirnunge of heorte to heouenliche þinges fleoð uppart toward heouene & tah ha fleon hehe wið heh lif & hali haldeð þah þe heaued lah þurh milde eadmodnesse as brid fleonninde buheð þet heaued leoteð al noht wurð þet ha wel wurcheð. […] Þe wengen þe uppard beoreð ham þet beoð gode þeawes þet ha moten sturien in to gode werkes as brid hwen hit fleo wule stureð hise wengen. Þe treowe ancres […] spreadeð hare wengen & makieð creoiz of ham seolf as brid deð hwen hit flið, þet is i þoht of heorte & bitternesse of flesch beoreð godes rode. (69)] There are birds and there are birds, though, and the anchoress must take care to be the right kind. If she is wise, she should “have little flesh and many feathers, like a pelican” (“lutel flesch as þe pellican haueð & feole fiðeren”) so that she can fly efficiently (Savage/Watson, 97; Tolkien, 70). The lazy, “fleshly” (“fleschlich”) anchoress who indulges her desires is like an ostrich, constantly dragging her feet on the ground however much she beats her wings (Savage/Watson, 97; Tolkien, 70). The “peeping anchoress” is like “an unruly bird in a cage” oblivious to the awaiting “cat of hell” as she persists in “pecking outward” (85).27 The gossipy anchoress is like the sparrow, who “chatters and chirps” (“chitereð ant chirmeð”) all the time (Savage/Watson, 105; Tolkien, 80). The cackling anchoress is like a hen, whose chicks, or good deeds, are quickly stolen by the devil-crow (Savage/Watson, 73; Tolkien, 36). The good anchoress conceals her good deeds like the night-bird, who gathers food “privately and secretly” (“i þeosternesse”) in the darkness (Savage/ Watson, 102; Tolkien, 75). Like an eagle, she protects her nest (Savage/ Watson, 98-99; Tolkien, 71). The Ancrene Wisse’s varied birdlife is replicated in the film, visually and aurally, symbolically and literally. Playfully, too. An abundance of different bird calls and songs can be clearly heard throughout the movie. Christine describes the divine as a voice “singing” a song “the blackbird knew”; the Virgin Mary’s voice is “like birds’ wings.” Perhaps she is thinking of the blackbird we see standing amid breadcrumbs on the ledge outside her window. Christine makes shadow birds with her hands, and her friend the Drover flaps his arms like a bird trying to fly. The friends communicate through bird calls across the field, and the Drover offers Christine a nest full of eggs. The Priest, following the Ancrene Wisse, likens the good anchoress to a 27

The “totilde ancre […] beakeð eauer utward as untohe brid i cage” while the “cat of helle cahte eauer towart hire” (54).

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bird that “flies and sings in heaven,” but the film spins that simile differently. Repeatedly we are shown an extreme close-up of a dove’s wings fluttering within a tiny casket.28 They signify the Virgin Mary’s voice, as Christine had described it to the Bishop, but they also signify Christine herself: like the bird, Christine flutters in her metaphorical coffin, entombed but not dead. As Christine emerges from the earth outside her cell, only her hands are at first visible, moving back and forth in a gesture that echoes her earlier pantomime of a flying bird. Following her escape, she awakens to the sound of birds singing in the Drover’s tree house; a feather rests in her hand, and more lie all around her head. After descending from the tree house, she moves her arms slowly up and down like a bird about to take flight. Anchoress implies that the lifestyle the Ancrene Wisse preaches, embodied in the Priest, stifles any modicum of joie de vivre an anchoress might experience. On two points, however, the medieval guide is shown to be right. First, the anchoress should not trust members of the clergy: not the bishop, not her priest, and especially not a young priest. The Bishop is a randy buffoon, peering at women through a monocular when he thinks nobody is looking and babbling in a Latin his auditors cannot understand (“vere esse comprehende” [“you must understand the truth of this”], he tells Christine at her enclosure ceremony). When Newby’s Priest – significantly, a young man – is not spewing misogyny, arguing about the color of the Virgin’s robes, or browbeating the faithful, he is carrying on with – and beating – one of his parishioners. The behavior of these clerics more than justifies the Wisse’s caution. The second point of agreement comes at the end of the movie, which gives the Wisse-author the final word. Christine has been thrust through the trap door beside the episcopal throne; amid the ensuing chaos, the Bishop prays that she will “play in the wide pastures of heaven,” adding that “the body will be wherever the soul desires.” He is quoting the Ancrene Wisse’s claim that the anchoress will “play in the wide meadows of heaven” (“pleien in heouene large lesewen”) and “the body will be wherever it wants to go in a moment” (“te bodi schal beon hwer se eauer þe gast wule in an hondhwile”) (Savage/Watson, 83; Tolkien, 51). Within the cavern, the wings of the dove beat vigorously and Christine, face aglow, explores the depths, caressing the rocks. She is exactly where she wants to be – not in the meadow, where she is supposed to want to be, but in the ground, where the Mother resides and where the censorious voice of the patriarchal Church cannot reach her. As we have seen, Newby’s Christine does not lead the life promoted in the Ancrene Wisse. She does not manifest well-attested features of latemedieval spirituality, such as devotion to the humanity of Christ. Indeed, she never mentions Christ at all, not even as the child of her beloved Mother. 28

See Roman’s reading of the beating wings as the voice of the Virgin, in “Politics of Mysticism.”


Studies in Medievalism

Although her gynocentric piety might smack of a quintessentially modern Neopaganism, I would argue that the spirituality she embraces is as rooted in medieval tradition as the religiosity she rejects.29 Christine appropriates mainstream religion. Church statuary kindles her devotion. When she tells the Bishop that Mary’s voice is “milk, like birds’ wings,” she is paraphrasing what the Priest told her about “the milk and honey of paradise” where the “true anchoress” “flies and sings.” As she mentions birds’ wings, a point-ofview shot shows her looking at the long, white feather of the scribe’s quill. Her piety is to the Priest’s and Bishop’s what the drolleries decorating the margins of medieval Books of Hours are to the biblical and hagiographical miniatures painted in the center of the sacred page: both are expressions of medieval Christianity, the margins often a distorted re-envisioning of the center.30 Christina’s piety also exhibits a queerness that is abundantly attested in the writings of medieval mystics from Hildegard of Bingen to Mechtild of Magdeburg.31 That queerness is manifest when she kisses the lips of the Virgin Mary’s statue, when she touches herself, and when she embroiders onto a liturgical cloth vulvic shapes and the masturbating Mother. When she speaks of “God, our mother,” she is echoing Julian of Norwich and other late-medieval contemplatives, male and female.32 Through a Lens, Darkly: Newby’s Medieval Past Newby’s Christine is an enigma to those around her – to her mother, her sister, the Priest, the Reeve, the Bishop. She tunes them out. She does not answer their questions. Newby does not answer ours. Why did Christine become an anchoress? Was it simply to reside forever with her beloved statue? Or was it perhaps (also), as her mother guesses, to escape being slapped or married? Why did she risk arrest and re-enclosure – or perhaps execution – by seeking out the Bishop? What does she think about God? Actress Natalie Morse conveys her pleasure, frustration, rapture, and worry without revealing what “makes her tick.” 29

See Rubin’s reading of Newby’s Christine as representing a “‘pagan’ alternative” that “can have little historical validity or power to persuade” (“An English Anchorite,” 216). Roman discusses Christine’s Virgin Mary as a sort of “earth mother” in “The Use of Nature: Representing Religion in Medieval Film,” in Neomedievalism in the Media: Essays on Film, Television, and Electronic Games, ed. Carol L. Robinson and Pamela Clements (Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 2012), 55–81 (63). 30 See Michael Camille, Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992). 31 Karma Lochrie, “Mystical Acts, Queer Tendencies,” in Constructing Medieval Sexuality, ed. Karma Lochrie, Peggy McCracken, and James Alfred Schultz (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 180–200. 32 Caroline Walker Bynum, Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).

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Anchoress unfolds more like a poem than a story, full of allusions and metaphors but short on plot. Indeed, Newby has described his film as “about a poetic eye at work in a barbaric landscape.”33 Like a poem, or perhaps a prayer, or, indeed, like the Ancrene Wisse itself, it asks to be meditated; many of its patterns can only be discerned through re-viewing. Scenes tend to begin with close-ups rather than establishing shots. The movie opens, for example, with a close-up of a beetle on a stalk of wheat, followed by an extreme close up of an eye, followed by a shot of a woman standing in a wheat field. As elsewhere in the movie, it is unclear where figures and objects of this sequence are in relation to each other, or whether they are real, dreamed, imagined, remembered, or envisioned. Are we to take the dove’s fluttering wings that punctuate the movie as the words of the Virgin, Christine’s vision, Newby’s commentary on her condition, or something else? And what are we to make of the movie’s only shot in color: a red vertical line against a black background? The image suggests menstrual blood and reminds us of Christine’s conviction that the Virgin wears red, but it has nothing to do with the plot. Appreciating the movie requires us to consume it somewhat as a medieval exegete would consume the Bible, alive to meanings beyond the literal.34 It must be “masticated,” as one medieval commentator said of books.35 Spatial and temporal disruptions fragment the narrative. Shots of the Priest demanding that Christine confess alternate with shots of two village girls demanding, over and over, “How may we see God?” A shot of Christine climbing a ladder set against a wall inside the church as her sister arranges apples on the floor is followed by a shot of her climbing a ladder set against an apple tree and tossing an apple down to her sister, which in turn is followed by a shot of Christine back on the ladder inside the church, tossing an apple down to Meg. From a shot of Christine fondling her breasts the camera cuts to a close-up of her middle finger burrowing a vaginally shaped hole in dirt covered by dry grass that resembles pubic hair. A shot of Meg and her husband frolicking in the bathtub is followed by a close-up of a vulvashaped flower that Christine has embroidered. By matching textures, shapes, 33

Quoted in Rubin, “English Anchorite,” 206. For a classic study of devotional reading, see Jean Leclerq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture, trans. Catharine Misrahi (New York: Fordham University Press, 1961). 35 William of Saint-Thierry, The Golden Epistle: A Letter to the Brethren at Mont Dieu, trans. Theodore Berkeley (Spencer, MA: Cistercian Publications, 1971), 52. On devotional works like the Ancrene Wisse as texts designed to be masticated, see Karen A. Winstead, Virgin Martyrs: Legends of Sainthood in Late Medieval England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997), 27. On descriptions of meditative reading in a variety of Middle English devotional texts, see Diana Denissen, “The Anchoress Transformed: On wel swuðe god ureisun of God almihti and þa wohunge of ure lauerd in the Fourteenth-Century A Talkyng of the Love of God,” in Medieval Anchorites in their Communities, ed. Gunn and McAvoy, 183–98. 34


Studies in Medievalism

and movements, Newby constructs a montage of impressions. Shooting in monochrome, using a wide-angle lens, and employing devices associated with silent-era cinema – for example, transitioning from one scene to the next with an iris-out – enhance the film’s strangeness. The vision of otherness that Newby realizes, “one of untold difference from the present,” is paradoxically familiar, as, to quote Miri Rubin, “one of the most prevalent visions of the Middle Ages.”36 Novels and movies of the late twentieth century, from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) to A Game of Thrones (1996), were depicting a degraded Middle Ages, rife with violence, misogyny, repression, and fanaticism; some claimed to capture the period as it “really was,” with all its stench, snot, pus, and piss. Where Anchoress departs from its medieval sources, it often does so, Rubin observes, “to demonstrate subjection and ill-treatment, in keeping with contemporary understandings of the ‘medieval’.”37 Anchoress’s focus on the gritty, primitive past is also consistent with the tendency of scholars since the 1970s to play up the alterity of the Middle Ages, in studies attuned to the “grotesque.”38 Paul Freedman and Gabrielle M. Spiegel identify the “most popular topics” among American cultural historians during the 1990s as “death, pus, contagion, defilement, blood, abjection, disgust and humiliation, castration, pain, and autopsy.”39 Much of that scholarship dealt with holy women, such as the “holy anorexics” who sucked the pus from the open wounds of lepers.40 Focusing on the grotesque entailed a “certain demonizing” of the period, which is also abundantly evident in the film.41 Indeed, Newby’s medieval is, as my students of the 1990s were wont to write it, “mid-evil.” For scholars of the late twentieth century, the alterity of the Middle Ages was knowable through research undertaken by experts with specialist training. Indeed, as Freedman and Spiegel observe, alterity gave “medievalists their sense of professional legitimacy, since the very strangeness and ‘difference’ signified by the distant past suggests a special virtue required for its study.”42 But where scholars elucidate, Newby proffers a Middle Ages visible 36

Rubin, “English Anchorite,” 206. Rubin, “English Anchorite,” 215. 38 Paul Freedman and Gabrielle M. Spiegel trace this trend in scholarship in “Medievalisms Old and New: The Rediscovery of Alterity in North American Medieval Studies,” The American Historical Review 103 (1998): 677–704. 39 Freedman and Spiegel, “Medievalisms Old and New,” 699–700. 40 The most influential book on this topic is Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987). See also Rudolph M. Bell, Holy Anorexia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987). Bell was criticized at the time for comparing the extreme fasting of medieval ascetics to the modern epidemic of anorexia nervosa, thus failing to attend to the alterity of the Middle Ages. 41 Freedman and Spiegel, “Medievalisms Old and New,” 697. 42 Freedman and Spiegel, “Medievalisms Old and New,” 697. 37

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through a lens, darkly. Discontinuity editing strews Christine’s world before us like a shattered figurine; some of the shards have been swept away, making it hard to guess how the remnants fit together. Anchoress thus offers a past that resists elucidation, either through analysis or narration. Yet some features it communicates very distinctly – features we can perceive precisely because they remain part of our present. The birds that sang for Christine still sing for us. Their songs and calls resonate through the movie, loud and clear. And the movie renders as distinctly as the calls of birds the contours of patriarchy. The Priest’s charge that Pauline “murder[s] the unborn” and provides women with “evil brews forbidden by our holy Church” fast-forwards viewers to their late twentieth century, riven by the struggles over reproductive rights. The voices that would restrict abortion and birth control in the present are condemned by association with a barbaric past, and viewers are challenged to consider what other residue of the “Dark Ages” remains. How different from our day is Christine’s, where women hover anxiously outside the church door while the men within debate a woman’s fate? Sarah’s Story Robyn Cadwallader’s The Anchoress is the product of a different critical moment. Medievalists of the late 1990s and especially of the new millennium, while cognizant of cultural and temporal difference, are more alive to the dangers of “othering” the Middle Ages into irrelevance.43 Many have, as Richard Utz puts it, “managed to challenge the pastism of Medieval Studies, whose practitioners still prefer to see an insurmountable otherness in medieval culture.”44 Nicholas Watson advocates an “affective historiography” that strives for “empathy.”45 Appreciating that “we” are both like and unlike medieval people, Cadwallader strives to communicate the likenesses without trivializing the differences.46 Where Newby uses the devices available to an auteur to capture difference, she employs the devices available to a novelist to capture “shared humanity,” realizing as a multifaceted human being a woman whose vocational choice might strike her twenty-first-century readers as


See, for example, Nicholas Watson, “The Phantasmal Past: Time, History, and the Recombinative Imagination,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 32 (2010): 1–37. Those dangers are forcefully articulated by Richard Utz in Medievalism: A Manifesto (Kalamazoo, MI: Arc Humanities Press, 2017). 44 Utz, Medievalism, 82. 45 Nicholas Watson, “Desire for the Past,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 21 (1999): 59–97. 46 Cadwallader eloquently describes that tricky negotiation in “Learning to Love the Dislocation: Reflections on Writing The Anchoress,” postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies 7 (2016): 273–84. For quotations and page references, I am using Cadwallader, The Anchoress, cited in note 9.


Studies in Medievalism

“wrong, or weird, or deluded.”47 She answers questions about her anchoress that Newby evaded about his: “Why was she there? How did she feel?”48 Her The Anchoress is to Newby’s Anchoress as Dr. Zhivago is to Battleship Potemkin. Sarah’s first-person narration elucidates the array of impulses and emotions that led her to seek enclosure, forsaking the wealth and privilege she enjoyed as the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Her love of God stirred her, to be sure, as did attraction to the solitary life. But so, too, did the deaths of her mother and her beloved sister in childbirth, along with her conflicted feelings for Thomas, son of the local lord, who is determined to possess her, even if it means marrying her against the wishes of his father. Though Sarah finds Thomas attractive, she knows he is irascible and prone to violence. It is easy to grasp her conundrums: would she really want to tie herself to such a man forever? is she willing to risk becoming pregnant and following her loved ones to the grave? Sarah’s narration renders the psychological and physical hardship of enclosure. We overhear her “converse” with the women who formerly occupied her cell and who now haunt her imagination: Agnes, renowned for her asceticism, whose bones lie beneath the floor of the anchorhold she died in; and Isabella, the red-haired beauty who forsook her vows and left her cell. We witness Sarah’s evolving relationships with those around her: Thomas, who becomes even more overbearing after inheriting his father’s lordship; her servants, elderly Louise and young Anna, who reminds her so much of her headstrong sister; her confessor Ranaulf, from nearby St. Christopher’s monastery; and the villagers. Chapters told in Sarah’s voice alternate with chapters that convey, through partially omniscient narration, Ranaulf’s perspective. Ranaulf, a scribe by training, wants to make books and resents being assigned to supervise an anchoress. To him, women are “a breed apart”; he has had little to do with them and no desire to interact with – much less to guide – those “strange creatures” he has been taught to think of as “daughters of Eve, gateway of sin, foul flesh, deformed male” (71, 73). At the beginning of the novel, he rather resembles Newby’s Priest: “You are to obey me in all things, as your Rule says,” he peremptorily tells Sarah. “You can’t discern God’s will as I can” (105). Yet Ranaulf’s perspective of Sarah changes during the course of the novel, and the two become friends. The complementary voices of Sarah and Ranaulf create a more nuanced view both of the anchoritic life and of the endemic misogyny of Sarah’s world. Cadwallader builds that world from the same liturgical, iconographical, archaeological, and literary materials Newby used to construct Christine’s. Her descriptions of Sarah’s enclosure ceremony and of her cell are drawn from medieval sources. So, too, is Sarah’s spirituality. Goaded by the ghost 47 48

Cadwallader, “Dislocation,” 276. Cadwallader, “Dislocation,” 277.

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of her predecessor Agnes, Sarah tries out the extreme asceticism that Caroline Walker Bynum famously documented in her 1987 monograph Holy Feast and Holy Fast. During this ascetic phase, she cuts and scourges herself; she fasts so rigorously that she stops menstruating. When she dons a hair shirt and contemplates the suffering Jesus, she experiences the orgasmic ecstasy described by late-medieval mystics. Sarah’s spirituality is as queer as Christine’s. Her “intercourse” with Jesus begins as she contemplates his feminized body, particularly the “almondshaped” wound that reminds her of her sister Emma’s death in childbirth: “He suffered as Emma had, his skin a deep and swollen pink, straining and bleeding out life” (180). The association of Christ’s wound, or “vulnus,” with the vulva is abundantly attested in medieval iconography and writing.49 The dying Jesus becomes for Sarah a birthing mother. As she contemplates his “almond-shaped wound,” she reflects, “Where else was I so like Christ but in this body?” (277). In another queer moment later in the novel, Saint Christopher, the “Christ bearer,” becomes in Sarah’s imagination a woman (258). Sarah’s spirituality, like Christine’s, resembles the drolleries on the margins of medieval Books of Hours – drolleries Cadwallader explicitly refers to as she describes the work of the medieval illuminator Cuthbert. Like Newby, Cadwallader juxtaposes the anchoress’s queer spirituality with the more conventional piety encouraged by the Ancrene Wisse, which she calls “the touchstone of my writing.”50 The Ancrene Wisse’s birds and apples pervade The Anchoress. The book begins with an Emily Dickinson poem, “’Tis not that Dying hurts us so,” which likens the dead to those birds that fly south for the winter and the living to those “that stay.” It ends with Sarah sitting in her garden, arms outstretched like birds’ wings (308). Sarah’s narration is bracketed by her memory of the jongleur “Swallow,” whose acrobatics, she muses, are the closest a human can come to flying. Will Sarah fly? She imagines herself a bird (27, 102–3, 276). She recalls feeling that in becoming an anchoress she had “leaped into the air, lighter than I’d ever been, flying to God, who would catch me in his arms” (5). Except that he did not. Anna’s rape by Sir Thomas and her death in childbirth test Sarah’s faith and make her doubt whether she will, or even can, fly. Birds, the novel shows, do not always fledge; those that do sometimes get eaten by cats (94, 220). As we progress through Sarah’s story, we encounter literal, metaphorical, and symbolic birds, some as extended metaphors, others in fleeting references or flashes of memory – letters shaped like birds’ wings (247), a child’s fingers fluttering in Sarah’s hand (171, 308), the Holy Spirit visiting Saint Margaret in prison (218). When Father Ranaulf at last abandons his aloofness to accept a village child’s 49 50

Lochrie, “Mystical Acts, Queer Tendencies.” Cadwallader, “Dislocation,” 278.


Studies in Medievalism

overture of friendship, he hears “a bird singing, its soft single notes uncertain, as if it were practicing” (263). Like Newby, Cadwallader rejects the apple’s association with sin and corruption. Sarah voices the received interpretation of the forbidden fruit when she reflects on one of the Ancrene Wisse’s lessons: “The eyes make us leap into sin, just as Lucifer and Eve leaped after sin because of what they had seen; it was looking at the apple that made Eve long to eat. That was why I had a narrow window covered with a thick curtain, so that I could not see out and no one could see in” (137). But she experiences apples otherwise, as tokens of fellowship and compassion. Apples bracket her friendship with Anna (252): shortly after she enters Sarah’s service, Anna gives the anchoress a baked apple (132–3). Sarah later gives Anna an apple she has inscribed with words from the legend of Saint Margaret, patron saint of childbirth (251).51 Doing so is at once an act of transgression and of love: Sarah has defied Father Ranaulf by dabbling in magic (249), but she hopes thereby to comfort Anna and secure her safe delivery (252). The Anchoress is not just informed by the Ancrene Wisse: it is explicitly about the medieval guide. Sarah’s story is set in the Midlands, where the Ancrene Wisse originated, and during the mid-thirteenth century, not long after it was written (12).52 Anchoritism has taken hold in the district, and Sarah owns one of the many copies of the guide (55, 12); in fact, Ranaulf scribed it for her. Implicitly referencing E. J. Dobson’s claim that the Ancrene Wisse addressed anchoresses living at Deerfold, Cadwallader represents Ranaulf’s mentor, Father Peter, as formerly the confessor for an anchoress at Deerfold (145).53 Peter recalls discussing with his spiritual daughter the value of the legends of the virgin martyrs Katherine, Margaret, and Juliana. Middle English lives of these three saints, composed at about the same time and in the same dialect as the Ancrene Wisse, were probably meant for the same (or an overlapping) audience of anchoresses. Without being one of the original three sisters, Sarah has much in common with them: she is a well-born laywoman, she entered the anchorhold from secular life rather than from a convent, and she is sustained through the generosity of a single patron. No wonder that Sarah can 51

See Jocelyn Wogan-Browne’s discussion of this practice in “The Apple’s Message: Some Post-Conquest Hagiographic Accounts of Textual Transmission,” in Late-Medieval Religious Texts and Their Transmission: Essays in Honour of A. I. Doyle, ed. A. J. Minnis (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1994), 39–53. 52 Yoko Wada provides a useful overview of what is known, or presumed, about the origin and dissemination of the Ancrene Wisse, in “What is Ancrene Wisse?,” in A Companion to Ancrene Wisse, 1–28. 53 Dobson, Origins of Ancrene Wisse. The identification of the original anchoresses as residents of Deerfold has been convincingly refuted (See Wada’s “What is Ancrene Wisse?” for a succinct summary of Dobson’s theory and explanation of why his Deerfold hypothesis is untenable).

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readily imagine herself as “one of those dear sisters” (12). Through Sarah’s reading of the Ancrene Wisse, Cadwallader thus imagines how it might have been received by its contemporaries. Cadwallader quotes liberally from the Ancrene Wisse as she describes Sarah pondering its lessons and doing her best to follow its strictures: she contemplates Jesus’s sufferings and imagines him as her bridegroom; she advises only women and scrupulously avoids gossip; she reads to her servants regularly from it, dutifully exhorting them, “pray and be quiet when you’re indoors, and modest when you go out” (14); she has a cat; she digs her grave (100–1). Where Christine is the wayward anchoress the Ancrene Wisse was written to regulate, Sarah, at least at the beginning of the novel, is the anchoress it strove to produce. For Newby, the Ancrene Wisse’s prescriptions are soul-killing and misogynous. Cadwallader, however, allows that the medieval author knows whereof he speaks. Anna was raped, Ranaulf points out, because Sarah ignored her Rule by allowing Anna to run the errands that Louise should have been running: “Your Rule says that the younger one must stay inside and the older maid be sent when needed” (190). The Rule’s warnings against the senses are shown to be spot on. When Thomas clasps Sarah’s hand as he delivers a book to her, his touch fills her with longing (156). She flushes with shame when she glimpses Ranaulf’s face (240). Sarah’s Rule, The Anchoress shows, is both wise and wrong. “Wise,” Ranaulf reflects, in its “teachings on temptation, prayer, control of the senses and the emotions” (70). Savvy – cynical even – about human nature. But wrong, nonetheless. “Forbidding sight and touch,” Ranaulf reflects, was “foolish and wrong” (261). Much as Sarah tries to concentrate on her lessons, anxieties and desires “interrupted my prayers, walked through the pages of my rule” (24). Loneliness leaves her vulnerable to the whisperings of Agnes, who incites her to bodily harm, and of Isabella, who tempts her to flee. “This enclosure,” Ranaulf realizes, “was killing her slowly” (271). In articulating the Ancrene Wisse’s strengths and shortcomings, Cadwallader is teasing out an ambivalence present in the medieval text, whose strictures are often at odds with the author’s affection and respect for his “dear sisters.”54 Thinking of their welfare moves him to a compassion that is nowhere acknowledged in Newby’s Anchoress. He encourages them to wear clothes that are “plain […] and well-made,” cool in the summer and warm in the 54

For a provocative discussion of this ambivalence within Ancrene Wisse, see Anne Savage, “The Translation of the Feminine: Untranslatable Dimensions of the Anchoritic Works,” in The Medieval Translator 4, ed. Roger Ellis and Ruth Evans (Binghamton NY: MRTS, 1994), 181–99. See also Nicholas Watson, “‘With the Heat of the Hungry Heart’: Empowerment and Ancrene Wisse,” in Gendering the Master Narrative, ed. Mary C. Erler and Maryanne Kowaleski (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003), 52–70, and Farina, Erotic Discourse, 35–61.


Studies in Medievalism

winter.55 They may go barefoot in the summer, but in the winter they should wear shoes that are “soft, large and warm” (“meoke, greate & warme” [214]). Linen he prohibits, but petticoats he allows. Though poor, they should be clean, and they should partake in medicinal bloodletting, especially if they feel “heavy or […] sad or sick” (204) (“heuie […] sare oðer seke” [217]). He discourages extreme asceticism and blanches at the thought of his “dear sisters” donning “harsh haircloths” (“brech of here ful wel icnottet” [214]): they would do better to cultivate a “sweet and tender heart” (202) (“swete & te swote heorte” [214]). Along the same lines, they should not inflame their skin by belting their nightgowns too tightly. Fasting is all very well, but he worries that they are not eating enough and that they “sometimes suffer more than I would like” (199, 187) (“oðerhwile þolieð mare þen ich walde” [211, 193]). Fretting that they might become discouraged and “fall into despair” (49) (“fallen i desesperance” [9]) he urges them not to worry if they find that they cannot adhere to all the guidelines he is providing them: they should feel free to tailor his instructions to their “character and capacity” (48) (“manere & […] euene” [7]). “Obedience, chastity and stability of abode” (49) (“obedience, chastete, & stude steaðeluestnesse” [8]) are important, but circumstances arise that justify leaving their anchorhold. And though they should keep no animal larger than a cat, they might conceivably need a cow (Savage/Watson, 201; Tolkien, 213). He is anxious lest they conclude from his stern warnings and myriad “don’ts” that he thinks ill of them: “I write much for others that in no way touches you, my dear sisters” (67) (“Ich write muchel for oþre þet nawiht ne rineð ow mine leoue sustren” [30]). When he denounces “peeping” (“totinde”), “news-greedy” (“hercwile”) and “gossipy” (“speokele”) anchoresses, he is not thinking of them (Savage/Watson, 85; Tolkien, 53). It is not that he supposes that they will do anything inappropriate, but even good anchoresses may become the victims of other people’s bad behavior. By the end of the novel, Sarah and Ranaulf have discovered, and are acting upon, that other, more compassionate Ancrene Wisse. Sarah requests that a walled garden be added to her anchorhold so that she can feel the sunlight. When Ranaulf reminds her, “your Rule calls you to contain your senses,” she rejoins, “my Rule is also clear that an anchoress may vary her outer Rule according to her needs and her confessor’s guidance” (281). He quickly accedes. By the end of the novel, Sarah is no longer rebuffing the villagers – male and female – who talk about “everyday matters” as if they “wanted to include me in their lives” (296). She is teaching a little girl to read and write (304–6). She is enjoying her garden; “enclosed and unsealed,” she is learning “to go places in my mind” (298, 292). When she gazes on the Crucifix in her 55

For the discussion of the anchoress’s clothing, see Savage and Watson, 202–3; Tolkien, 214–15.

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cell, she imagines Christ “stretched between my cell and the village outside, between enclosure and the people I pray for” (279). Presenting Patriarchy Cadwallader explicitly intends her novel to engage with a patriarchal present: Although patriarchy may be subtler now, women still struggle to maintain control over their own bodies; to speak their mind without condemnation; to walk the streets safely; to earn equal pay. The list goes on. And when it is part of our lives, it is not always easy to see the frameworks that order our world. In seeing the experience of one woman who is like us, and yet so unlike us, I hope the basic structures become a little clearer. Engaging the past in conversation, as we do in historical fiction, helps us to see the past more clearly, and so to see ourselves as well.56 In an interview, she recalls how “astonished” her publishers were with the novel’s “relevance for today’s readers, especially women,” with its treatment of “isolation and the need for connection, the need for touch, [gender politics], attitudes to the body, acceptance of the body, acceptance of self.”57 Reviewers saw those connections and others that Cadwallader may never have dreamed of. “Robyn Cadwallader probably didn’t have ISIS in mind when she sat down to write The Anchoress,” New York Times reviewer Sarah Dunant wrote, “but the parallels are there if one chooses to consider them.”58 Newby is similarly invested in exposing the “basic structures” of patriarchy. Those structures, as represented in Anchoress, are strongly institutional.59 Christine is caught in the struggle between secular and religious lordship embodied in the persons of the Reeve and the Priest, who are agents, respectively, of the lord of the manor and of the Bishop. Significantly, none of these male principals is given a name, though the medieval documents identify both the bishop (John de Stratford) and the priest (Matthew Redemane). Their offices are their identity, and therein lies the problem. That problem is eloquently conveyed through the characters of Christine’s sister Meg and 56

Cadwallader, “Dislocation,” 283. Sally Pryor, “Interview: Robyn Cadwallader, Author of The Anchoress,” The Sydney Morning Herald (February 14, 2015), , last accessed July 17, 2018. 58 Sarah Dunant, “The Anchoress, by Robyn Cadwallader,” The New York Times Sunday Book Review (June 5, 2015), , last accessed July 17, 2018. 59 On Anchoress’s anti-institutional bias, see Roman, “Use of Nature.” 57


Studies in Medievalism

her husband, the Reeve. The Reeve, though arrogant, is a far cry from the buffoonish Bishop or the wily Priest. Nor is he anything like Cadwallader’s Sir Thomas. We never see him forcing his affection on Christine; when she rebuffs his attempt to visit her in her anchorhold by dropping the curtain and raising the grate, he remonstrates “Christine!” but then goes away. He has fun at the village games and obviously enjoys being with Meg. We can sympathize with him when, after their wedding, he awkwardly asks Pauline for a remedy to make Meg return his affection, pretending that he is asking on “his lordship’s” behalf before he breaks down and admits, “She doesn’t love me, mama, as a husband.” Meg feels trapped in her marriage to him – we see her eyeing a spider’s web from her bedroom window – but she is not frightened of him. In what for me is the most poignant scene of the movie, Meg returns home from visiting her sister. It is winter, and snow has drifted in by a window; the Reeve is asleep in their bed. On impulse, Meg takes a handful of snow and tosses it on him. He jumps to his feet, cursing, then, realizing what has happened, he mock stalks his giggling wife, then chases her around the room. We next see them cavorting in the bathtub, with Meg clearly taking the lead; cut to a vaginal shape that Christine is embroidering. The Reeve has gotten his wife to love him by being a man, not a reeve. But he reverts all too quickly to “reeve mode.” In his next scene, he is striding towards the church, where the men are meeting to discuss what to do about the runaway anchoress. Meg, standing with a few village women at the church door, rushes to intercept him. “Why can’t you let her go?” she asks. He strokes her face gently, then enters the church. “She should hang!” he declares inside, as his wife, watching and listening through a crack, swoons. The Reeve does not even glance her way as he leaves, pushing another woman out of the way in his rush to argue his case to the Bishop before the Priest can make his counterargument. The scene at the church, with the men inside making decisions about a woman’s fate while the voiceless women watch from outside, embodies patriarchal malignity, a malignity that harms men along with women. It seems obvious that there will be no further happiness either for the Reeve or for his wife. The Anchoress also represents as malignant temporal and spiritual lordship, embodied in the characters of the bishop and Sir Thomas. As in Anchoress, the most humane characters – women, villagers, and monks – are the least privileged. And the victims of patriarchy are men along with women. When Thomas becomes lord, he plans to confiscate part of the village common land, itself a seizure, a raptus, analogous to his assault on women (273). “I wasn’t the only one that Thomas forced to his will,” Sarah reflects as she watches Thomas’s reeve Gwylim bully the villagers (199). The bishop similarly threatens the village with ruin should villagers gossip about his assault on Isabella (205). Cadwallader, though, is ultimately less concerned with the harm wrought by temporal and spiritual lords and their minions than with the harmful effects of institutionally sanctioned cultural stereotypes, especially the stereotypes

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that insist on gender difference. Biased by what he has read in books and been taught in school (71), Ranaulf worries that even the embrace of his mother will lead him into sin, and his learned misogyny governs his relationship with Sarah, leading him to dismiss her ideas and trivialize her needs, convinced that he knows best. To belie Ranaulf’s faith that men and women have nothing in common, Cadwallader establishes strong parallels between him and Sarah, parallels reinforced by their alternating narrations. Both are young and earnest. Both are avid readers. Both crave and choose solitude – Sarah the solitude of the anchorhold, Ranaulf that of the scriptorium – but realize that they need others. Sarah struggles with loneliness, while Ranaulf misses conversing about books with others (40). Both cave to Sir Thomas’s bullying, and, at first, neither has much use for the villagers. They are united, too, in their arrogance and self-absorption. When Anna becomes pregnant, it occurs to neither of them that she might have been raped. Both think only of how her “transgression” will affect their reputation: Sarah worries that she will be blamed for not properly supervising her servant, and Ranaulf in turn worries that he will be blamed for not properly supervising his anchoress. Sarah expresses no sympathy for Anna, and Ranaulf expresses none for Sarah – but pressured by their superiors, both find themselves defending the “sinner”: Sarah to the censorious Ranaulf, and Ranaulf to the censorious bishop. By the end of the novel, Sarah and Ranaulf realize that they are kindred spirits, that they can work together, comfort each other, strengthen their community, and protect it and themselves against the machinations of the odious bishop and lord. To get to that point, Ranaulf had to act against “all he knew […] even […] the words he had copied” (269). In essence, The Anchoress translates into narrative the central tension of the Ancrene Wisse, whose author knows all about women but realizes that little of what he knows applies to his “dear sisters.” The Anchoress shows that book learning can harm as well as comfort, and it promotes the competing authority of lived experience. It shows relationships of friendship and community as potentially able to erode the structures of patriarchy that anchor other kinds of social relationships – between lovers, between spouses, between employers and employees, and between lord and tenants. Creative Criticism Writing of Newby’s Anchoress, Miri Rubin observes that film can illuminate the past by giving it “visual form, acoustic resonance and texture”; through “poetic evocation” it can make “connections which are not readily evident through conventional scholarly investigations.”60 The same is true of novels, as 60

Rubin, “English Anchorite,” 217.


Studies in Medievalism

I hope my discussion of Cadwallader’s The Anchoress shows. Both Anchoresses stand at the intersection of “medievalism” and “medieval studies” as they are conventionally defined. They tackle many of the same questions that cultural historians have asked, using medieval sources to interpret anchoritic experience: what kind of women might have become anchoresses, and why? how did they relate to their spiritual directors? how might solitude have limited or empowered them? The Anchoresses offer hypotheses about how radically queer and ascetic practices might have been received by English holy women and their confessors. They consider the relationship between “official” and “popular” religion. Though they proceed from different visions of the Middle Ages and different assumptions about how well we can “know” the past, they both embrace modern scholarship’s revisionary view of anchoritism as rather more than a death sentence. Both Anchoresses, as we have seen, undertake close readings of the Ancrene Wisse. Through their priests, they imagine the kind of cleric who might have produced such a guide, what he may have hoped to accomplish, and how his strictures might have been (mis)construed, ignored, or appropriated by his spiritual daughters. Scholarship on the reception of any medieval text is perforce speculative, as scholarship on the Ancrene Wisse abundantly illustrates. Without some imaginative leaps, we cannot “arrive at a reading of [the Ancrene Wisse and related texts] which reflects, not the views of the male author, but the way in which their female audience would have understood them,” nor can we propose how a “male-orchestrated discourse could be reconfigured to allow [women] to find their own equal – or meaningful – place within it”; “we can only extrapolate from the physical appearance of its earliest extant manuscripts what [the Ancrene Wisse] might have looked like as a physical object and how it functioned materially within the anchorhold”; constructing from “internal evidence” a “picture” of the “social origins, literacy and general education” of thirteenth-century anchoresses requires not only close reading but creativity.61 Literary critics embed their hypotheses within arguments, “creative critics” within stories, both buttressing their interpretations by quoting textual evidence. The Anchoresses’ diverging interpretations of the Ancrene Wisse replicate the clashing of opinions of scholars, some of whom regard it as “inherently misogynist” and others as potentially empowering.62 61

The quotes are, respectively, from Catherine Innes-Parker, “Ancrene Wisse and Þe Wohunge of Ure Lauerd: The Thirteenth-Century Female Reader and the Lover-Knight,” in Woman, the Book, and the Godly: Selected Proceedings of the St. Hilda’s Conference 1993, ed. Jane Taylor and Lesley Smith (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1995), 137–47; McAvoy, Medieval Anchoritisms, 94; Elizabeth Robertson, “Savoring ‘Scientia’: The Medieval Anchoress Reads Ancrene Wisse,” in A Companion to Ancrene Wisse, ed. Wada, 113–44 (115); and Millett, “Women in No Man’s Land,” 93. 62 McAvoy, Medieval Anchoritisms, 8; for a contrasting view, see Innes-Parker, “Ancrene Wisse.”

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The emphases of creative and conventional critics differ, with a director or novelist free to acknowledge that she or he wants to present a medieval past that speaks to the present – a premise that has always silently informed scholarly research and writing. The “rules of engagement,” of course, differ radically. The respectable literary critic cannot alter the record (though he or she may privilege certain portions of the record over others). She or he can point out that Christine’s petition to re-enter the anchorhold may have been coerced; a filmmaker, by contrast, can alter the record to express something that may (or may not) be closer to what the historical Christine actually wanted. Many novels or films that treat the Middle Ages do not aim for a deep engagement with the artifacts of the past, and that does not make their medievalism any less provocative or worthy of study. But creative works that do closely engage with medieval texts and culture, like the Anchoresses, remind us that scholarship takes many forms and invite us to think more liberally and creatively about how we study the Middle Ages.

The King’s Speech: Battle Orations in Medieval Film  Peter Burkholder, Christopher Caldiero, Jonathan Godsall In early 2012, Capital One released yet another commercial in its famous and highly successful “marauding Vikings” series. This one, opening with a barbarian war band on the brink of combat and conspicuously patterned after Braveheart’s William Wallace at Stirling, features a tuxedo-clad, espressosipping Alec Baldwin swooping in to interrupt the impending fight, stating, “Battle speech, right?” The hopelessly out-of-place Baldwin then takes sword in hand and rallies the troops with promises of double-miles travel rewards for each dollar charged. His points are punctuated with sword thrusts into the air, each met by rousing acclaims from the armed masses, and supported by dramatic music. The segment ends with the obligatory “What’s in your wallet?” tagline, and Baldwin poking fun at himself for a recent air-passengerrage incident.1 What is interesting about the commercial for the purposes of this study is that the segment works only because the battle harangue has become a stock motif in medieval film. Baldwin’s anachronistic dress, accessories, and message of credit card rewards are easily juxtaposed with a recurring feature of combat depictions set in the premodern era that audiences have seen numerous times. It is therefore not a stretch, even for twenty-first-century 1

The thirty-second spot is viewable at , last accessed March 26, 2015. Background on the ad agency’s humorous use of Vikings is in Kevin Harty, “‘Save Us, O Lord, from the Fury of the Northmen’; or, ‘Do You Know What’s in Your Wallet?’,” in The Vikings on Film, ed. Harty (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011), 3–7. Baldwin’s notorious pre-flight meltdown was chronicled extensively; see for example Alan Duke, “Rude Alec Baldwin Fled to Toilet, Booted from Plane,” CNN (December 7, 2011), , last accessed September 26, 2017.

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Americans with only the most rudimentary understanding of the Middle Ages, to see the irony and get the joke of Baldwin’s moving address to the warriors. The goals of this study are four-fold. Drawing on expertise in medieval history, film studies, communication theory, and musicology, the authors first bring attention to the historicity of battle orations and the purposes they served, and how those purposes have changed to appeal to modern-day theatergoers. Second, showing how film harangues are made and taken up in recurrent ways allows one to see speech in action as not merely constative, but as performative and persuasive utterances. In other words, the delivery of these harangues on screen accentuates their content and rhetorical power, while fostering a shared experience among viewers. Third, the issue of accuracy vs. authenticity of battlefield speech depictions allows one to observe the complicated interplay between real and reel history, and suggests that there is value in the latter for understanding a component of medieval warfare. Last, it is argued that filmmakers have cleverly utilized music scoring as an integral part of their battle oration scenes, drawing on film-music conventions to emphasize the general significance of the speeches and punctuate both their unique and common themes for the audience. Films and television productions under examination here tend toward more recent English-language productions, and portray subject matter that is either safely “medieval” or set in a fantasy world that is generally considered “medievalesque.”2 They include: Henry V (1944, dir. Laurence Olivier), Joan of Arc (1948, dir. Victor Fleming), Henry V (1989, dir. Kenneth Branagh), Braveheart (1995, dir. Mel Gibson), Joan of Arc (1999, dir. Christian Duguay), The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999, dir. Luc Besson), Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002, dir. Peter Jackson), LOTR: The Return of the King (2003, dir. Jackson), King Arthur (2004, dir. Antoine Fuqua), Kingdom of Heaven (2005, dir. Ridley Scott), Game of Thrones, Season 2, Episode 9: “Blackwater” (2012, dir. Neil Marshall), GOT, Season 2, Episode 10: “Valar Morghulis” (2012, dir. Alan Taylor), and The Vikings, Season 3, Episode 8: “To the Gates!” (2015, dir. Kelly Makin), and Season 4, Episode 10: “The Last Ship” (2016, dir. Jeff Woolnough). The main criterion for selection was the inclusion of a substantive battle speech. So, while films like El Cid (1961, dir. Anthony Mann) and Timeline (2003, dir. Richard Donner) contain scenes with perfunctory combat exhortations, their brevity effectively eliminated them from treatment. A second consideration was that the examples be from mainstream productions with which most readers would be familiar, thus obviating the need for extended context. That said, treatment here is 2

For a useful discussion of what constitutes a “medieval” film, see Bettina Bildhauer, “Medievalism and Cinema,” in The Cambridge Companion to Medievalism, ed. Louise D’Arcens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 45–59 (46–9).

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representative, not exhaustive, so the applicability of the arguments made here to other dramatic recreations awaits further study. Battle Orations in Medieval History Inspiring speeches, or at least the idea of a commander’s words of reassurance delivered to troops just prior to combat, were real features of the Middle Ages.3 The late Imperial writer Vegetius, whose handbook on warfare would dominate the medieval military landscape and beyond, encouraged generals to motivate their troops before battle. “When the men despair,” he wrote, “their courage is raised by an address from the general.” He further advised that a leader point out the “cowardice and mistakes of their opponents” and remind the troops of past victories against the enemy.4 A thousand years later, Christine de Pizan paid reverence to Vegetius both by plagiarizing him (a common form of premodern flattery) and by penning a boilerplate battle oration that commanders could tailor to their needs.5 The advice of these handbook authors should not be viewed as an aberration, for medieval chronicles and epics are replete with harangues delivered to soldiers on the edge of combat. In a series of studies, John Bliese identified and examined a selection of battle orations for the years 1000–1250. Bliese argued that, far from being mere literary flourishes, the orations contain kernels of truth representing authors’ views on morale and motivation. He further deduced that leaders used a number of recurring rhetorical motifs to inspire their troops to victory: appeals to bravery and valor are the most frequent (appearing in 43.3% of his cases), followed by the justness of the army’s cause (30.3%), pleas to God and saints (30.0%), the innate superiority of one’s own forces (19.2%), and promises of plunder and booty (13.3%), to name but the top five drivers out of twelve. Bliese ultimately concluded 3

Bernard Bachrach and David Bachrach, Warfare in Medieval Europe, c. 400–c. 1453 (New York: Routledge, 2017), 326–8; Steven Isaac, “Valor, Morale, and Cowardice,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology, ed. Clifford Rogers, 3 vols. (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 3:393–6; and Rogers, Soldiers’ Lives through History: The Middle Ages (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007), 166–7. 4 Vegetius: Epitome of Military Science, trans. N. P. Milner (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2001), III:9, 12. On the medieval Nachleben or “afterlife” of Vegetius in the Middle Ages, see Christopher Allmand, “Vegetius’ De re militari: Military Theory in Medieval and Modern Conception,” History Compass 9:5 (2011): 397–409, and, more extensively, Allmand, The “De Re Militari” of Vegetius: The Reception, Transmission and Legacy of a Roman Text in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011). 5 Christine de Pizan, The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry, ed. Charity Willard, trans. Sumner Willard (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), 61–3. On plagiarism as flattery, see Richard Cohen, How to Write Like Tolstoy (New York: Random House, 2016), 56–7.


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that battle orations were more practical than values-driven, with the primary aim being to manage the fear that inevitably grips soldiers awaiting a fight. According to his analysis, commanders anticipated psychologist Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs,” where pragmatic, lower-order requirements (e.g., order and survival) had first to be met before attaining aspirational, higher-order needs (e.g., living up to ancestors’ previous achievements).6 Within the context of medieval warfare, the stakes were high: containing fear for the purpose of maintaining unit cohesion was imperative for premodern armies, since panic and flight could lead to rout and disaster in short order.7 There is no preliminary expectation that the content of battle orations in movies and television set in the Middle Ages should adhere to Bliese’s findings. Historical cinema operates by its own standards, with authenticity being achieved primarily by fulfilling audience expectations that have been formed by previous movies; strict historical accuracy counts for little.8 Thus, if film combat speeches fail primarily to emphasize attempts to allay soldiers’ fears, it should come as no surprise, since the goals of modern-day filmmakers are not those of the persons portrayed. Rather, while cinematic battle orations may be delivered ostensibly to the troops on screen, they primarily take aim at the audience witnessing them. As such, these speeches emphasize not so much practical combat advice as they do lofty and abstract values designed to resonate with modern-day film viewers – and those viewers, according to Robert Toplin, tend to be “hard-working citizens of the lower and middle classes” who most readily relate to “uplifting drama depicting conflicts between the humble and the powerful.”9 The result is that universal modern-day values are the central thrust of many battle orations, meaning Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is effectively inverted on screen. 6

See Bliese, “Rhetoric Goes to War: The Doctrine of Ancient and Medieval Military Manuals,” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 24 (1994): 105–30; “When Knightly Courage May Fail: Battle Orations in Medieval Europe,” The Historian 53:3 (1991): 489–504, with the cited statistics on 492–3; and “Rhetoric and Morale: A Study of Battle Orations from the Central Middle Ages,” Journal of Medieval History 15 (1989): 201–26. 7 On the lopsided premodern casualty rates that could result from one side breaking in panic, see Richard Gabriel, Man and Wound in the Ancient World (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2012), 16–20, and Rogers, Soldiers’ Lives, 214–18. 8 There is extensive bibliography on this point. Generally, see Robert Toplin, Reel History: In Defense of Hollywood (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002), chap. 1: “Cinematic History as Genre,” and Robert Rosenstone, History on Film/Film on History (Harlow: Pearson Publishing, 2006), chap. 1: “History on Film.” For medieval film in particular, see Laurie Finke and Martin Shichtman, Cinematic Illuminations: The Middle Ages on Film (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), 36–9, and Andrew Elliott, Remaking the Middle Ages: The Methods of Cinema and History in Portraying the Medieval World (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011), chap. 9: “Authenticity and Accuracy in Medieval Worlds.” 9 Robert Toplin, “Cinematic History: An Anatomy of the Genre,” Cineaste 29.2 (2004): 34–9 (37); and Bildhauer, “Medievalism and Cinema,” 49–52.

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Contours of the Battle Speech in Medievalist Film Because inspirational addresses have become a stock feature of medievalist cinema, it is worth delving into how they operate as an element of onscreen dramatic storytelling. For example, although it is a truism that a harangue would occur prior to a phase of combat, such speeches precede the opening clash of arms only around half the time in the titles examined here. Braveheart’s William Wallace has partaken in small-scale combat before, but his famous oration paves the way to action at Stirling, the movie’s first major battle. Aragorn (LOTR: Return of the King), Arthur (King Arthur), and Balian (Kingdom of Heaven) are hardened veterans, but their speeches anticipate the super-battles near their films’ endings. An actual battle never takes place following Theon Greyjoy’s spirited harangue (GOT: “Valar Morghulis”), but he fires up the troops in anticipation of sallying forth from the imperiled Winterfell. Equally prevalent are addresses that occur during a mid-battle lull, usually at a crisis point when things look bleakest. All three Joan of Arc films examined here have the titular figure addressing the troops prior to her own first taste of combat, though Joan performs this act at the siege of Orléans already in progress (and invariably going poorly for the French). Théoden’s harangue in LOTR: Two Towers transpires after the Uruk-hai have overrun Helm’s Deep and serves to rally the troops for a (presumably) suicidal cavalry charge out of their hopeless situation. Having not only survived but triumphed in this act, Théoden again stokes his forces prior to riding to the rescue of the besieged Minas Tirith (LOTR: Return of the King), a city on the brink of collapse. Tyrion Lannister finds himself rallying forces against the attack on King’s Landing, which up to this point has gone badly for the defenders (GOT: “Blackwater”). Mid-battle addresses likewise appear in the recent Vikings mini-series: first at the Frankish defense of Paris (“To the Gates!”), and later at a naval battle on the Seine (“The Last Ship”). From the examples above, it becomes apparent that battle orations are delivered by protagonists who face overwhelming odds.10 In this sense, the motif is entirely consistent with aspects of the more general historical film genre. Cinematic history, argues Toplin, is highly partisan: it favors David vs. Goliath struggles, with clearly identifiable heroes and villains.11 In all of the cases under consideration here, the superiority of the enemy’s forces is visually communicated by the vastness of his soldiers swarming over the landscape (e.g., LOTR: Two Towers, Kingdom of Heaven) or the powerful and asymmetric weapons and troops at his disposal (e.g., Braveheart, LOTR: 10

The case of the speeches in the History Channel’s Vikings series is a possible exception, insofar as none of the characters on either side of combat are particularly sympathetic. 11 Toplin, Reel History, 23–36.


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Return of the King, King Arthur). The grim military situation may be further driven home by way of direct dialogue, explaining how hopeless things look for the underdog (e.g., Henry V, Braveheart). The soldiers serving as the ostensible audience for the speeches are invariably demoralized and dejected, the camera zooming in to show long faces (e.g., LOTR: Return of the King) or to listen in on thoughts of abandoning the field altogether (e.g., Joan of Arc [1948], Braveheart). The speech-giver literally rises above his or her men’s terror by sitting astride a warhorse (Joan of Arc [1948, 1999], Braveheart, The Messenger, LOTR: Two Towers, LOTR: Return of the King [both speeches], King Arthur), or by standing upon a wall, riser, or cart (Henry V [1944, 1989], Kingdom of Heaven, GOT [both speeches]). Meanwhile, inspirational addresses are noticeably lacking from the opposing forces: if anything, strictly utilitarian or even insulting commands emanate from the mouths of evil leaders, as is the case with Braveheart’s English leadership at Stirling, or the Orc captain facing King Théoden’s charge at Pelennor Fields in LOTR: Return of the King. Despite the long odds facing them, the heroic leader’s inspiring battlespeech virtually guarantees a win, thus imparting even greater powers to the speaker and his or her cause in the victorious aftermath. This, too, harmonizes with Toplin’s observation that cinematic history prefers morally uplifting stories where the meek ultimately triumph, and it holds true for harangues delivered to inferior forces in every title examined here. This becomes especially significant when considering combat scenes that end badly for the protagonists. William Wallace’s resounding defeat at Falkirk in Braveheart does not feature a speech of any kind; likewise, Faramir’s doomed charge at Osgiliath in LOTR: Return of the King and Balian’s ill-fated assault outside of Kerak in Kingdom of Heaven transpire without a word of inspiration. Joan’s military defeats at Paris and Compiègne (if depicted on screen; the films vary here) omit orations of any type. A protagonist’s triumph in battle on film is not necessarily predicated on an oration – witness the speech-absent military successes in such medieval-set films as Excalibur (1981, dir. John Boorman), First Knight (1995, dir. Jerry Zucker), and Robin Hood (2010, dir. Ridley Scott) – but when formal addresses are made, an on-screen victory is all but assured. The cinematic battle oration thus effectively serves as a form of “speech act”: it is performative, so that the harangue itself, simply by being uttered, functions as an action. The speech provides not only verbal and visual content, but signals to the audience an expected outcome of the impending action. The latter point underscores that films are intended for audiences, who must interpret and derive meaning from what they see and hear. One can thus examine cinematic battle orations within the context of traditional rhetorical approaches to speech acts. Consider the contributions of Aristotle, long regarded as the founding father of rhetorical analysis. One of his most

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compelling contributions to understandings of human communication (and, notably, persuasion) is also amongst his simplest to grasp. In his seminal work Rhetoric (alternatively titled The Art of Rhetoric), compiled in the fourth century BCE, Aristotle presented what he claimed to be the most effective way to persuade. This involved a delicate balance of components to the persuasive argument, involving three basic tenets: logos (logic, or sound reasoning), ethos (ethical and honest motivation), and pathos (passionate and emotional presentation).12 The medieval battle speech, in many ways, adheres to this Aristotelean mantra. Ideally, the battlefield leader, whether historical or filmic, should present a case that is logical, honest, and passionate. Film representations of combat harangues, including all of the ones mentioned so far, certainly portray these three elements, if not all in the same speech. Yet, if the rhetorical role and cinematic features of battle speeches remain fairly constant, the orations’ actual content can vary substantially from film to film. Significantly, that content appears to have little to do with the substance of medieval battle orations as they have come down to us. As seen above, Bliese’s research found that, in decreasing order of frequency, speeches in medieval texts emphasize appeals to bravery or valor, the justness of the army’s cause, pleas to God and the saints, the innate superiority of one’s own forces, and promises of plunder and booty. The last theme of potential for monetary gain as a result of victory shows up nowhere in the movies looked at here, probably because it would undermine the protagonists’ virtuous qualities that the filmmakers hope to convey: “Greed is good” is as much of a moral liability here as it was in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987). A claim to the natural supremacy of the heroic leaders’ forces would work against the aforementioned David vs. Goliath theme, and thus appears only in Theon Greyjoy’s speech in GOT: “Valar Morghulis” (this special case is taken up below). Quite the reverse: all three harangues in the LOTR series exhibit an apocalyptic outlook on the battle to come. “Spears shall be shaken, shields will be splintered!” thunders Théoden to his knights at Pelennor Fields (Return of the King); “Ride for ruin and the world’s ending!” Aragorn echoes Théoden’s stance by referring to “shattered shields” in the impending battle before the Black Gates of Mordor. Although he likewise describes an inevitable end to the age of Men, Aragorn offers a glimmer of hope by promising that “it is not this day.” Joan of Arc films are unique in that they inevitably feature overt appeals to God for military victory: even the casual moviegoer would know of Joan’s 12

Amélie Oksenberg Rorty, “Structuring Rhetoric,” in Essays on Aristotle’s Rhetoric, ed. Amélie Oksenberg Rorty (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 1–33 (2–3), and Aristotle, The Art of Rhetoric, trans. Hugh Lawson-Tancred (1991; rpt. London: Penguin, 2004), 140–1.


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visions and divine calling, and filmmakers can go to great lengths to fulfill viewers’ preconceptions of historical figures and settings. Shakespeare’s battle speech in Henry V alludes to St. Crispin, but primarily as a means of marking the date, not an appeal to saintly intervention.13 Aside from Balian’s address in Kingdom of Heaven (which invokes religious motivations primarily to illustrate their pitfalls) and Princess Gisla’s drawing on the saintly powers of the oriflamme at Paris in The Vikings: “To the Gates!” (principally to emphasize the religious divide between the Christian defenders and pagan attackers), none of the other titles feature combat speeches calling on a supernatural force for victory. This leaves bravery, valor, and the righteousness of the protagonist’s cause, all of which are invoked in cinematic harangues, though not to the extent they appear in historical texts. Only three cases – LOTR: Return of the King (Aragorn’s speech), Kingdom of Heaven, and GOT: “Valar Morghulis” – exhibit appeals to personal bravery, while statements on the relative merits of the central character’s cause are rare; on the contrary, Balian’s speech in Kingdom of Heaven overtly calls partisan justifications for military action into question. Rather, filmmakers use the battle oration as a blunt instrument to communicate an intended message to the audience or to push a presentist agenda, even if doing so inverts Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and even if it violates an informal, less-is-more rule of film dialogue.14 An obvious example of this is the role that “freedom” plays in some of the most memorable speeches preceding medieval combat on screen. An inalienable right to self-determination readily resonates with any American or Western democratic moviegoer and continues to make inroads into repressive societies. It is thus not cinematically unsettling to hear King Arthur’s fifth-century general, in service to the Roman Empire, bolstering his men’s pre-battle resolve with an explicit appeal to personal freedom: the film is shot through with statements and debates on the importance of freewill and self-determination (Tom Shippey’s study identifies fifteen such references15), and the speech is presaged in a knight’s proximate release of his prized hawk with the words “You’re free.” In this way, Arthur reprises the central theme of one of the most famous battle orations in medieval film: William Wallace’s address just prior to the battle of Stirling in Braveheart. Wallace ends both sections of his speech with explicit freedom-appeals – and the importance of this ideal is further 13

Jonathan Baldo, “Wars of Memory in Henry V,” Shakespeare Quarterly 47.2 (1996): 132–59 (137–8). 14 See Karl Iglesias, “The Art and Craft of Dialogue Writing,” in Cut to the Chase: Writing Feature Films with the Pros at UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, ed. Linda Venis (New York: Penguin, 2013), 242–70 (245). 15 Tom Shippey, “Fuqua’s King Arthur: More Myth-Making in America,” Exemplaria 19.2 (2007): 310–26 (315).

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underscored in Wallace’s last line of the film, crying out a special-effects enhanced “Freedom!” moments before his decapitation under the orders of the ruthless Edward I. Such recurring motifs are to be expected, as the repetition of signature words or phrases is a standard screenwriting technique for establishing and reinforcing character traits and motives.16 This is not to deny that concepts of individual and collective libertas existed in the Middle Ages, but to point out that such theories are inherently complex and liable to change over time. Unfortunately, the dramatic film medium is innately poor at conveying such intricacy.17 Thus, “freedom” could mean something quite different to a thirteenth-century Scotsman in a fight for his life than to a twenty-first-century Brooklynite enjoying a movie on his sofa.18 That said, one need not speculate about the moviemakers’ presentist motives: in his DVD commentary, King Arthur director Antoine Fuqua openly admits that he sought to draw parallels both with the AfricanAmerican slave experience and with the United States’ bungled liberation of Iraq. His principals thus struggle against two forces: the Saxon invaders (an external threat) and a corrupt Catholic church (an internal menace and common antagonist in medieval cinema), both of which stand as obstacles to freedom.19 For his part, Mel Gibson acknowledges taking great liberties with Stirling’s depiction (the actual battle was not “cinematically compelling,” he notes in the DVD commentary), and his independence message found especially receptive viewers in modern Scots on the eve of a vote for limited autonomy within the United Kingdom.20 In each case, the battle oration is an opportunity to appeal directly to the audience’s value in self-determination, which is entirely consistent with the observation that successful cinematic representations of the past speak to the present.21 Similar is the example of Balian of Ibelin’s address to the defenders of Jerusalem in Kingdom of Heaven in the face of Saladin’s attack. By this point 16

Cindy Davis, “Building Characters,” in Cut to the Chase, ed. Venis, 75–98 (81–2). Reel History, 17–19, and Toplin, “Cinematic History,” 35–8. 18 A useful overview of medieval concepts and manifestations of freedom is Orlando Patterson, “The Ancient and Medieval Origins of Modern Freedom,” in The Problem of Evil: Slavery, Freedom, and the Ambiguities of American Reform, ed. Steven Mintz and John Stauffer (Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007), 31–66. 19 On nefarious depictions of the Catholic Church on screen, see Colleen McDannell, “Why the Movies? Why Religion?,” in Catholics in the Movies, ed. Colleen McDannell (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 3–31 (26–7). The general public is predisposed to thinking the medieval Church was an inherently corrupt institution, so it is an easy mark for filmmakers; see Frans van Liere, “Was the Medieval Church Corrupt?,” in Misconceptions about the Middle Ages, ed. Stephen Harris and Bryon Grigsby (New York and London: Routledge, 2008), 31–9. 20 Colin McArthur, “Brigadoon,” “Braveheart” and the Scots: Distortions of Scotland in Hollywood Cinema (New York and London: I. B. Tauris, 2003), 123–9. 21 Toplin, Reel History, 41–6. 17 Toplin,


Studies in Medievalism

in the film (one hour and forty minutes in), Balian has repeatedly shown himself to be a levelheaded and honorable soldier who is surrounded by homicidal religious fanatics, both Christian and Muslim. His delivery is one of enlightened tolerance, arguing that no religion has exclusive claim to Jerusalem real estate, and rebuking the corrupt bishop before and after the speech. Balian speaks primarily to the audience here, dispensing nothing that would inspire his troops to victory; on the contrary, the harangue is almost an anti-oration, insofar as it admits that the city’s attackers are as justified in their actions as the defenders are in theirs. Debuting in May 2005, the film in general, and the oration in particular, were intended by director Ridley Scott to serve as commentaries on events unfolding in the Middle East. That the American public had not yet decisively turned against the war in Iraq meant that Balian’s message fell on many deaf ears, and probably contributed to the financial problems Kingdom of Heaven faced at the US box office.22 Prominent crusades scholars also objected to Scott’s revisionist history.23 In sum, the cinematic inversion of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs makes sense if one remembers what is at stake. A soldier on the brink of combat faces quite real and imminent dangers. The matter of his own survival, and his commander’s need for order and cohesion, favors pragmatic speech content. Watching a dramatic reenactment of battle on screen, on the other hand, is itself an aspirational act. Almost by definition – and bearing in mind the tragic but extremely rare cases of cineplex shootings – basic needs for survival have been met in order to partake in the luxury of film-viewing entertainment. The form and content of medieval battle orations, both real and recreated, are thus commensurate with the needs of the audience, be it a line of anxious soldiers or a row of fun-seeking moviegoers. The Battle Speech as Audience Bonding Agent Keith Yellin, in his book Battle Exhortation, provides useful insights as to how military leaders have used speeches to motivate their troops and the 22

June 2005 was the first time a slight majority (52%) of Americans showed disapproval for the US intervention in Iraq, though 50% still approved of President Bush’s war on terrorism; see Dana Milbank and Claudia Deane, “Poll Finds Dimmer View of Iraq War,” The Washington Post (June 8, 2005), , last accessed September 26, 2017. The film’s domestic financial troubles are shown at , last accessed December 28, 2013. 23 Jonathan Riley-Smith, “Truth is the First Victim,” The Times Online (May 5, 2005), , last accessed September 26, 2017, and Thomas Madden, “Onward PC Soldiers: Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven,” National Review Online (May 27, 2005), , last accessed September 26, 2017.

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implications of these real events.24 However, little has been done to examine these speeches in the context of fictional accounts presented in films. The relationship between invention (film) and reality (audience) highlights a component of communication theory and the role it plays in analysis of film portrayals of battle harangues. Because the speeches themselves are acts of communication, as previously mentioned, they are subject to examination in the context of some interesting perspectives rooted in communication studies. The lenses required to consider these acts take us out of the film (and the suspension of reality that goes along with it), and place these invented portrayals of battle harangues in the thoroughly real world of human communication. Consider, for example, Ernest Bormann’s “symbolic convergence theory,” or SCT. Launching from a traditional rhetorical perspective of communication, Bormann theorized that certain communication acts serve as “binding agents” to us all and, therefore, allow us collectively to understand phenomena. This is accomplished by presenting what Bormann called “fantasy themes” that resonate with many of us regardless of our individual backgrounds or experiences.25 While SCT has traditionally been used to examine overarching themes of human experience and communication (e.g., the Cold War or American independence), there are opportunities to consider more specific subject matter. Battle speeches are an excellent example of how film portrayals of certain communication phenomena help an audience understand some of the assumed realities of war and, more specifically, of morale in battle. Historical accuracy or inaccuracy aside for the moment, SCT posits that an audience will relate more to a film – and, indeed, understand what is happening – if it can connect with the themes presented. Further, SCT advances the idea that, as audience members, we actively seek out themes to better understand the larger picture. This helps explain why Hollywood movies often seem so rife with clichés. Key to applications of SCT are symbolic cues and fantasy themes. Symbolic cues are words and phrases that trigger fantasies and emotions, while fantasy themes provide references that allow audiences to connect with new experiences, such as a never-before-seen battle in a film.26 Clearly, all of the battle speeches mentioned to this point present numerous symbolic cues, courtesy of the directors, screenwriters, and actors. However, it is the fantasy themes, especially for those battles that never occurred (e.g., any and all in the 24

Keith Yellin, Battle Exhortation: The Rhetoric of Combat Leadership (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2008). 25 Ernest Bormann, “Fantasy and Rhetorical Vision: The Rhetorical Criticism of Social Reality,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 58.4 (1972): 396–407. 26 John Cragan and Donald Shields, “The Use of Symbolic Convergence Theory in Corporate Strategic Planning: A Case Study,” Journal of Applied Communication Research 20.2 (1992): 199–218.


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LOTR films), or for those that happened so long ago that there are questionable accounts of what actually occurred (e.g., Joan of Arc’s communications with her troops prior to the assault at Orléans in 1429), that are crucial to unifying an audience’s emotions and understandings. Bormann saw fantasy themes as fulfilling an audience’s needs through the creative and organized interpretation of events. In this sense, battle speeches, as portrayed in film, serve an important purpose: what is often a chaotic, garbled, or inaccurately recalled event can become a clear, singular, and powerful moment for a film audience. This harmonizes with the broader contours of the historical film genre, which necessarily simplifies the past in order to tell a compelling and readily comprehensible story.27 SCT further serves as a valuable frame of analysis, given the nature of the movie experience. Audiences, by default, undergo a “collective unity,” whereby the events portrayed on the screen may be perceived as speaking to a “one” as opposed to “many.” This feeling is of course common at the theater, a speech, or even a sporting event, since human beings behave differently in groups than they do when alone. John Cragan and Donald Shields refer to this as a “shared group consciousness.”28 Given this phenomenon, battle speeches in film, along with all other mediated portrayals of the human experience, present a rhetorical vision, a chronicling account of a “real” event that both provides a story and allows an audience to create the story of what happened and why. It becomes clearer now why the language used in cinematic battle harangues must speak more to the audience’s expectations than to the likely realities of an actual speech or what might most effectively motivate soldiers. This “collective unity” or “shared group experience” helps explain some other recurring features of cinematic battle orations. Humor, typically crude in nature, does not appear in Bliese’s research on medieval textual accounts, but it is an effective instrument for making connections with movie audiences. Thus, one hears William Wallace’s statement before action at Stirling that he would “consume the English with fireballs from his eyes and bolts of lightning from his arse,” words that are soon reinforced by the Scottish soldiers’ collective “mooning” of their opponents. Tyrion Lannister’s speech observes that the attackers of King’s Landing “are brave men,” after which he humorously deadpans, “Let’s go kill them.” And the seriousness of Theon Greyjoy’s harangue at Winterfell climaxes with a deliberately amusing and crude promise to erect a bronze statue to “whoever kills that fucking hornblower” who has plagued him and his soldiers for days with racket. In a similar vein, sexual references, both explicit and implicit, emerge in dramatic battle speeches as a bonding agent with the audience and as a 27 Toplin, 28

Reel History, 17–19. Cragan and Shields, “Use of Symbolic Convergence.”

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mechanism to reinforce the implications of failure in combat. Both harangues in Game of Thrones, a series replete with carnal deviance and explicitness, feature sexual content. Tyrion Lannister proposes to show his men how to “come out behind [the attackers of King’s Landing] and fuck them in their arses,” and promises them that defeat will result in the collective rape of the city’s women. To reinforce the sexual tableau, a cutaway shot to a battering ram’s rhythmic pounding against the gate follows Tyrion’s sodomy stratagem and continues its thrashing throughout his delivery. (One should note that this is not the first time an on-screen battering ram has been used to suggest sexual violence, as an analysis of William Wallace’s attack on York reveals.29) Theon Greyjoy’s speech assures an erotic legacy to his men: not only will descendants know their names and deeds forever, but “girls will think of us with their lovers inside them.” That sex and crude humor sell in today’s cinematic marketplace is a superfluous point, so their appearance in battle harangues aimed at adult audiences is not unexpected. Moreover, viewers often harbor expectations of “dirty medievalism,” though such depictions are also a function of particular production companies. Television studios such as HBO, Showtime, and Starz are well known for delivering adult-theme historical drama to those seeking it.30 Filmic Anti-Orations Capital One’s ability to spoof the medieval battle oration as a marketing tool illustrates how familiar the feature has become to present-day moviegoers. Indeed, satire is predicated on the recognizable, so the company obviously saw potential in harnessing the general public’s extant knowledge of cinematic battle speeches and viewers’ ability to appreciate the humorous approach. There are indications that permutations on common film motifs have begun to infiltrate the dramatic medieval battle speech as well, thus showing how established it has become even while turning the standard screen version on its head. Balian’s address to the defenders of Jerusalem in Kingdom of Heaven, treated earlier, is one such example. Rather than being inspirational – a key component of Aristotelian rhetoric – the content of the speech is chastising in tone, due to director Scott’s using the scene as an opportunity to voice disapproval of present-day actions in the Middle East. Even starker departures 29

Sid Ray, “Hunks, History, and Homophobia: Masculinity Politics in Braveheart and Edward II,” Film and History 29 (1999): 22–31 (27). One also sees and hears an Uruk-hai battering ram at the doors of the citadel of Helm’s Deep in LOTR: Two Towers, with the booming interspersed with shots of terrified women and children. 30 Andrew Elliott, “Our Minds Are in the Gutter, but Some of Us Are Watching Starz: Sex, Violence, and Dirty Medievalism,” in Fantasy and Science-Fiction Medievalisms, ed. Helen Young (Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2015), 97–116.


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are evident in the orations of Tyrion Lannister and Theon Greyjoy in Game of Thrones. Tyrion’s speech follows many of the standard conventions: it comes at a crisis point in battle, it is delivered from an elevated position, and it addresses soldiers who are losing, demoralized, and sure of their own destruction. But the similarities end there. Rather than delivering a statement of encouragement to the royal troops, Tyrion rolls out a list of negatives: the king, honor, glory, riches – these are things not worth defending or trying to attain. It is the undesirable consequences of failure – houses burned, women raped, wealth stolen – that serve as his drivers. Bliese notes that the threat of defeat was not unknown in medieval commanders’ motivational repertoires, as evidenced by its appearance in nearly 13% of his cases. But Tyrion’s oration mocks the lofty and ambitious goals of most cinematic examples, speaking instead in grim, utilitarian terms and punctuated by his unceremonious call to kill the attackers. The challenge to traditional movie battle orations is taken to its logical conclusion in Theon Greyjoy’s scene. Desperate to gain his estranged father’s love and the respect of his soldiers, and racked with guilt over having seized his adoptive family’s castle at Winterfell, Theon delivers a speech that is initially textbook cinematic both in form and content. With shades of both Shakespeare’s Henry V speech and the famous words of Gladiator’s (2000, dir. Ridley Scott) General Maximus (“We die today, brothers,” says Theon, “but our war cries will echo through eternity”31), the speaker crescendos to a frenzied pitch and the adulation of his men – only to collapse unconscious, brained from behind by a subordinate. “Thought he’d never shut up,” says one, the energy of the moment having evaporated. “It was a good speech,” adds Dagmar Cleftjaw, who has just clubbed the speaker; “Didn’t want to interrupt.” Theon’s passion and oratory skills are no match for the realpolitik forces that have betrayed him. Like the Capital One commercial, it is the viewers’ very familiarity with the standard battle harangue model that allows for its subversion. Accuracy or Authenticity? The preceding discussion has argued that cinematic battle speeches only coincidentally overlap with their historical medieval counterparts, and thus that dramatic recreations subscribe to their own rules in much the same way as the latter do to theirs. But is this too pessimistic? Have some filmmakers succeeded – either deliberately or not – in portraying medieval military leaders and their inspirational words in ways that reflect the sources? In cases of medieval-inspired fantasy worlds, such points may appear moot. The question of the “accuracy” of Aragorn’s or Théoden’s battlefield 31

Compare with Maximus’ line to his soldiers just prior to their cavalry assault on the barbarians in the opening battle scene: “What we do in life echoes in eternity.”

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statements, for instance, presumably hinges on whether or how well they represent J. R. R. Tolkien’s novels. The author did not portray Aragorn delivering a speech before the battle at the Black Gates of Mordor (LOTR: Return of the King), so the filmic harangue is pure invention. In the case of the dialogue prior to the sally from the citadel at Helm’s Deep (LOTR: Two Towers), there are snippets of discourse from the book that show up on screen.32 Perhaps another way to view this, however, is whether Tolkien’s scenarios are drawn from, or correspond to, actual historical examples. In this context, the parallels between the fictional (and successful) cavalry charge from Helm’s Deep and the historical (but disastrous) mounted sally by the Templars at Jacob’s Ford in 1179 are of potential interest. Similar to the LOTR depiction, a desperate group of trapped soldiers issued out of the castle of le Chastellet on horseback and into Saladin’s superior forces.33 Whether a motivational speech preceded this incident is not known, though it is plausible, given the Templars’ dire circumstances. One is ostensibly on firmer ground when evaluating dramatic depictions of events before battles that did take place in history. The case of Henry V’s speech prior to the clash at Agincourt in October 1415 readily springs to mind. Although they bring Shakespeare’s work to the screen in different ways, both twentieth-century Henry V films utilize the playwright’s late sixteenth-century script; thus, at least in terms of content, the question becomes whether Shakespeare framed the king’s address within older texts or simply exercised poetic license.34 The anonymous Gesta Henrici Quinti, an eyewitness account of the English trek across northern France and the battle of Agincourt, written around 1417 and considered to be the most reliable retelling of the campaign, states that Henry “gave encouragement to the army” prior to combat. The author likewise tells of the king scolding a knight, Sir Walter Hungerford, for wishing there were additional English archers present, a story that is repeated in Thomas Elmham’s Liber Metricus de Henrico Quinto (though unlike the anonymous Gesta scribe, Elmham was not an eyewitness).35 The vignette is an obvious basis for the opening 32

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Part Three: The Return of the King (New York: Ballantine, 1955), V:10: “The Black Gate Opens,” and Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Part Two: The Two Towers (New York: Ballantine, 1954), III:7: “Helm’s Deep.” 33 On events at Jacob’s Ford, see Malcolm Barber, “Frontier Warfare in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem: The Campaign of Jacob’s Ford, 1178–79,” in The Crusades and Their Sources: Essays Presented to Bernard Hamilton, ed. John France and William Zajac (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), 9–22. 34 The 1944 and 1989 translations of Shakespeare’s play to the screen are discussed in Linda Cahir, Literature into Film (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006), 158–64. See also Anne Curry, Agincourt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 106–11. 35 See Anne Curry, The Battle of Agincourt: Sources and Interpretations (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2000), 33, 45.


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lines of the Shakespearean version of events: the play’s King Harry rebukes Westmoreland for pining for a thousand more archers, but beyond that, the speech is a work of fiction. The ensuing oration offers little in the way of Bliese’s practical advice; rather, the king takes almost maniacal delight in his predicament, promising his troops that they will long consider themselves lucky for having fought there. Though the speech is mostly invented, the intervening centuries have done nothing to diminish its ability to “rouse the most inert audience to passion.”36 Little wonder, then, that Braveheart’s screenwriter, Randall Wallace, leaned heavily on the St. Crispin’s Day speech when crafting the Scotsman’s oration at Stirling. Similar to Shakespeare’s King Harry, the rebel leader promises his comrades that inferior numbers and weapons matter not: a day will come when they can look back with pride on the fact that they were present, and woe to anyone who chose to abandon the field. Also like the playwright, neither Wallace delivers anything in the way of practical combat advice to assuage the Scots’ fears; rather, as discussed above, they are to fight for an abstraction meant to resonate primarily with film viewers. Unlike Henry’s documented address before Agincourt, it is dubious that William Wallace made any sort of set-piece speech to his troops, the battle of Stirling being more accurately an ambush.37 Thus, one sees that Henry’s speech, as told by Shakespeare, has a slim basis in history, but the portion appropriated for Braveheart rests on Elizabethan fiction to depict an event that likely never transpired. One can hardly argue against director Gibson’s decision to invent the harangue and draw on Shakespeare’s powers of persuasion: Braveheart was a smashing box-office and Academy success, and Wallace’s oration has been deemed by one media outlet as the best cinematic combat speech of all time.38 Joan of Arc’s communication with her troops prior to the assault on the Tourelles at Orléans in May 1429 is another circumstance allowing one to compare contemporary accounts against filmmakers’ creativity. According to historical records, Joan suited up and hastened to the Burgundy Gate, only to find that combat was already underway. She met a number of wounded French soldiers, and Joan’s presence, according to her page Louis 36

Anthony Lewis, “Henry V: Two Films,” in Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies, ed. Mark Carnes (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995), 48–53 (48). The complicated reconstruction of the works influencing Shakespeare’s play is found in Curry, Agincourt, chap. 4: “‘Alarms and Excursions’: The Enduring Influence of Shakespeare’s Agincourt.” 37 On the historical battle, Michael Prestwich, Edward I (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988), 478, and G. W. S. Barrow, Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1965), 123–5. 38 “Top 10 Movie Battle Speeches,”, , last accessed January 2, 2014.

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de Coutes, rallied the troops, though de Coutes is mute on whether she spoke to them (these events are roughly depicted in The Messenger and Joan of Arc [1948]). Days later, says another eyewitness, prior to a new assault on the same gate, Joan waved her standard in such a manner that the army thought she was signaling an attack (a distinctive twirling of her banner prior to the assault on the Tourelles is shown in Joan of Arc [1999], while Joan wields a banner in the 1948 production and in The Messenger as well). The ensuing French assault carried the fort and ended the siege, but the miscommunication suggests that, contrary to the films, no formal harangue preceded the action.39 Like the case of Braveheart above, it should come as little surprise that filmmakers invented Joan’s set-piece speeches before the attack at Orléans. In all three cases examined here, the harangues serve the purpose of illustrating to the audience how a young girl with no military experience could inspire the confidence and loyalty of hardened veterans – something that no Joan of Arc film has ultimately succeeded at doing. All rely on the audience’s assumption that people in medieval Europe operated in an “age of faith,” where even absurd propositions, at least to the modern mind, would be taken seriously if wrapped in a patina of religion. Moreover, Joan’s faith would be common knowledge even to modern filmgoers, so there is an expectation that religious conviction would form the basis of her leadership on screen.40 One thus views Joan in the 1948 movie rallying her dejected countrymen with a shout (“We shall have victory! God wills it!”) reminiscent of Pope Urban II’s famous call for crusade, while her 1999 counterparts’ deliveries likewise emphasize God and heaven.41 Joan of Arc (1999) attempts to convey that the Maid had natural military talents by showing her consulting with her captains over a map of the planned assault just prior to her oration.42 The Messenger, on


Joan’s actions at Orléans are covered in Kelly DeVries, Joan of Arc: A Military Leader (Stroud: The History Press, 1999, repr. 2011), 74–85, and Régine Pernoud and MarieVéronique Clin, Joan of Arc: Her Story, trans. Jeremy duQuesnay Adams (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), 43–8. 40 Peter Dendle, “‘The Age of Faith’: Everyone in the Middle Ages Believed in God,” in Misconceptions about the Middle Ages, ed. Harris and Grigsby, 49–53. See also Bildhauer, “Medievalism and Cinema,” 54. 41 Urban’s invocation of “God wills it” language is seen in Robert the Monk’s version of the speech at Clermont; see “Urban II (1088–1099): Speech at Council of Clermont (1095), Five Versions of the Speech,” Medieval Sourcebook, (last accessed January 3, 2014). For analysis, Michael Lower, “Pope Urban II’s Call to Crusade,” in Milestone Documents in World History, ed. Brian Bonhomme, 4 vols. (Dallas: Schlager Press, 2010), 2:497–512. 42 For the historical Joan as a highly effective military commander, see Kelly DeVries, “A Woman as Leader of Men: Joan of Arc’s Military Career,” in DeVries, Guns and Men in Medieval Europe, 1200–1500 (Aldershot: Ashgate Variorum, 2002), essay VI:3–18.


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the other hand, uses Joan’s wild-eyed, screaming, megalomaniacal speech to indict her as a charlatan or schizophrenic.43 Historical filmmakers necessarily invent, so it can be disingenuous to protest screen depictions of specific events or dialogue for which records may be scattered or non-existent. And even though there are plenty of texts in which medieval battle orations appear, dramatic re-creators of history are typically more interested in audience buy-in than adherence to academic standards. In other words, authenticity trumps accuracy, and what viewers perceive as authentic often does not correspond to the latest state-of-thequestion among historians.44 This has been amply demonstrated in terms of props and costuming, on-screen languages and accents, and even cinematic modes of medieval warfare.45 In each case, it is the repetition and familiarity of sights, sounds, characters, and storytelling methods in motion pictures that form the basis of authenticity, regardless of whether those aspects are historically faithful. Andrew Elliott succinctly describes the process: “By repetition, the audience comes to expect it; through a process of accretion, ironically the inaccurate thus becomes authentic.”46 Film producers do not have the luxury of eliding specifics of the medieval world; on the contrary, they utilize readily recognizable details to generate a sense of on-screen realism, even if such details defy traditional scholarship in the process.47 If filmmakers opt to portray a battle oration, they must make choices for the content of the speech, as well as where, when, how, by whom, 43

The Messenger’s strange treatment of Joan went over poorly with the public and academics. See Nickolas Haydock, Movie Medievalism: The Imaginary Middle Ages (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008), 111–33; John Aberth, A Knight at the Movies: Medieval History on Film (New York and London: Routledge, 2003), 296–8; and Kathryn Norberg, “Joan on the Screen: Burned Again?,” Perspectives on History (February 1, 2000), (last accessed August 30, 2018). 44 See note 8 above. 45 On costuming, Richard LaMotte, “Designing Costumes for the Historical Film,” Cineaste 29.2 (2004): 50–4; on props, Charles Tashiro, “Passing for the Past: Production Design and the Historical Film,” Cineaste 29.2 (2004): 40–4, and Peter Burkholder, “X Marks the Plot: Crossbows in Medieval Film,” Studies in Popular Culture 38.1 (2015): 19–40; on language and accents, Edward English and Carol Lansing, “The Idea of a Middle Ages,” in A Companion to the Medieval World, ed. Lansing and English (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 3–6 (4), and Tison Pugh and Angela Weisl, Medievalisms: Making the Past in the Present (London and New York: Routledge, 2013), 83; and on warfare, Burkholder, “Popular [Mis]conceptions of Medieval Warfare,” History Compass 5.2 (2007): 507–24, and Burkholder and David Rosen, “Child Soldiers in Medieval(esque) Cinema,” in War, Myths, and Fairy Tales, ed. Sara Buttsworth and Maartje Abbenhuis (New York and Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan/Springer, 2017), 147–73. 46 Elliott, Remaking the Middle Ages, 216 (emphasis in original). A similar argument is made by Bildhauer, “Medievalism and Cinema,” 49–51. 47 Toplin, Reel History, 47–50.

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and under what circumstances it is delivered. In this sense, their depictions of harangues have potential value even to academics, or at least to their students. For instance, although there are myriad written examples of generals encouraging their troops prior to combat, it is not well understood how these deliveries would have transpired. Given limitations in the human voice’s ability to carry, especially outdoors, it is doubtful that anyone beyond a small circle could have heard the leader’s exhortations.48 Historical texts hold some clues. Prior to his engagement with the rebel Boudica around 60 CE, the Roman general Suetonius Paulinus is described as moving from division to division to address his troops. His adversary made her oral deliveries while elevated in a chariot that carried her sequentially to each tribe.49 (Dramatic depictions of these harangues appear in Warrior Queen [2003, dir. Bill Anderson].) For communications in the thick of combat, the military writer Vegetius called for the use of signal flags and musical instruments.50 The problems faced, and solutions utilized, by medieval commanders in these regards would not have changed relative to their ancient predecessors. Thus, nearly thirteen-hundred years after Rome crushed Boudica’s rebellion, King Edward III moved from unit to unit, delivering short speeches before his troops engaged at Crécy.51 The military historian John Keegan called attention to the problem of understanding how medieval battlefield communications and troop movements worked, ultimately deeming the matter “unanswerable.”52 Movies thus give an imaginative, perhaps even plausible, glimpse of what this all might have looked like. One views William Wallace and King Théoden moving up and down the line in Braveheart and LOTR: Return of the King respectively, bolstering their men; one witnesses Joan of Arc in several films on her horse, shouting encouragement and twisting her banner; amid heavy hand-to-hand 48

This point is amply displayed in the battle of Stirling featurette of the Braveheart DVD. Director Gibson, clad in his Scotsman regalia, requires a battery-powered bullhorn to communicate with his film extras. 49 For Paulinus’s movements, see Dio’s Roman History, trans. Earnest Cary, vol. 8 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1955), Epitome of LXII, chaps. 9–11 (pp. 97–101); on Boudica in a chariot (which is how she is depicted in a bronze statue alongside the Thames in London), Tacitus, The Annals, trans. J. C. Yardley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 14.35. Mogens Hansen doubts that harangues were delivered by ancient or medieval commanders to their soldiers en masse, though he admits that words of encouragement could be made successively to various units; “The Battle Exhortation in Ancient Historiography: Fact or Fiction?,” Historia 42.2 (1993): 161–80. The actual content of Boudica’s and Paulinus’s speeches is problematic; see Eric Adler, Valorizing the Barbarians: Enemy Speeches in Roman Historiography (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011), 122–7, 141–2, 152–6. Adler does not address the matter of how the orations might have been delivered, though he does question the historicity of such speeches in general (6–8). 50 Vegetius, Epitome, II:22 and III:5. 51 Rogers, Soldiers’ Lives, 166. 52 John Keegan, The Face of Battle (New York: Viking Press, 1976), 92–3 (93).


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combat, one sees how a whistle signals soldiers to change lines and bring fresh fighters to bear – the latter movement being something that is known to have occurred, but which historians still cannot fully explain.53 It is thus with trepidation that on-screen representations of the distant past are discarded as so much junk when they transgress the historical record or fill in its many gaps. Movie producers rightfully find themselves scrutinized when making unsupportable claims to “truth” or “accuracy” about their representations of the medieval past.54 One of the titles under examination in this study, King Arthur, begins with a bold textual “truth claim” of historians now agreeing on, and archeological evidence corroborating, the historicity of Arthur and the contours of his actions. The film’s historical consultant made equally problematic statements.55 But as Robert Rosenstone argues, the historical filmmaker can very much be the equivalent of the academic in terms of the problems they face and how they deal with them creatively in their respective mediums.56 In this context, Rosenstone distinguishes between what he calls “false invention” (which “ignores the discourse of history”) and “true invention” (which consciously “engages” the same).57 Dramatic recreations of the past obviously cannot be used as “evidence” of the subject matter portrayed, but when done well they can serve as powerful vehicles to get casual viewers and serious academics alike thinking about how events might have transpired, as well as our own epistemological limits. Soundtracks of the Medieval Battle Oration Music had a communicative role in actual medieval battles, and has since taken on a similar role in screen depictions of such battles and their orations. Instead of relaying instructions to soldiers, though, the music of film orations acts alongside visual and dialogic cues to communicate the meaning and 53

The last example refers to the opening battle sequence in HBO’s Rome, Season 1, Episode 1: “The Stolen Eagle” (2005, dir. Michael Apted). The realistic depiction of signals and soldiers’ movements in this scene is lauded by Lee Brice, “The Fog of War: The Army in Rome,” in Rome, Season One: History Makes Television, ed. Monica Cyrino (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008), 61–77 (65–7). 54 Toplin, Reel History, chap. 3: “Awarding the Harry and the Brooks.” 55 Critiques of King Arthur’s transgressions can be found in Caroline Jewers, “Mission Historical, or ‘[T]here were a hell of a lot of knights’: Ethnicity and Alterity in Jerry Bruckheimer’s King Arthur,” in Race, Class and Gender in “Medieval” Cinema, ed. Lynn Ramey and Tison Pugh (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 91–106, and Pugh and Weisl, Medievalisms, 88–90. The historical consultant’s claims to historical veracity are in John Matthews, “A Knightly Endeavor: The Making of Jerry Bruckheimer’s King Arthur,” Arthuriana 14.3 (2004): 112–15. 56 Rosenstone, History on Film/Film on History, chap. 7: “Film maker/Historian.” 57 Robert Rosenstone, Visions of the Past: The Challenge of Film to Our Idea of History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 64–76 (72).

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significance of the oration to the present-day audience, and does so typically not from the battlefield itself (the film’s on-screen world, its diegesis), but from the space of the film’s narration (that is, the music is nondiegetic, or from a source beyond the story space). The use of a score provided by an invisible orchestra is clearly not accurate to historical events, or to real life more generally, but is an almost ever-present and so expected element of an authentic film oration. The aim now is to ascertain whether these scores have common attributes, and how these might serve as aural signposts to film viewers. The manner in which Patrick Doyle’s original music unfolds in parallel with Branagh’s St. Crispin’s Day address in Henry V (1989) is instructive in its simplicity. The music is largely based on a short, repeating chord pattern, but develops in two key ways. First, its texture gradually thickens through the addition of different instruments, progressing from soft, string-dominated underscoring at the beginning of the oration, to a full orchestral climax coinciding with the King’s final line and the cheering of his soldiers. The course of this development is interrupted only by the noticeably quieter passage that accompanies Branagh’s almost whispered, more intimate delivery of “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” Second, as Branagh pauses before “Old men forget …” approximately halfway through the speech, the music moves to a different, higher key (F major, from D-flat major), and features a variation on the repeating chord pattern before the original returns, still in this new key. The key change occurs almost in tandem with a cut from a medium shot to a close-up of Branagh’s face, the musical gear shift thus coinciding with a visual shift of emphasis to propel the speech forward. Doyle’s music follows the contours of Branagh’s speech, then, and does so in terms of its structure and content at least as much as its delivery, for Branagh is not obviously speaking more loudly at the end than he is at the beginning. The score serves broadly to emphasize the oration as important and worthy of attention – not all dialogue in the film is accompanied by music, let alone such dramatic music – but also more particularly to amplify the meaning and emotional effect of the King’s words. The intimate “We few” is more intimate because the orchestra drops in volume at that point, and the climax is more climactic because the music reinforces it. Doyle writes that he attempted to “hold a mirror up to the dialogue and action” through his music.58 Julie Sanders suggests that the combination of music and dialogue in Branagh’s oration is representative of an approach to such significant moments in the director’s collaborations with Doyle more generally (which, as of this writing, stretch to eleven films, including five Shakespeare adaptations), and argues that Doyle’s music can “seem far too 58

Patrick Doyle, liner notes to Henry V: Original Soundtrack Recording, CD (EMI CDC 7 49919 2, 1989).


Studies in Medievalism

intrusive, detracting from, even at times drowning out, the speeches in favour of the easy emotional signifier.”59 It is probably true that one need not listen to Henry’s words in the 1989 film to understand the broad intent and effect on the soldiers of his oration, such is the clarity with which the music emulates its progression and uplifting message. Music, for Sanders, is part of Branagh’s toolkit for fulfilling his “express intention of popularizing Shakespeare through the medium of film,” and its effect might therefore be judged in a positive light, too.60 Using music to provide “the easy emotional signifier” is a common strategy in mainstream film and television more generally.61 Branagh and Doyle’s take on the Henry V oration contrasts obviously, and perhaps deliberately, with that of Olivier and his composer William Walton: in the 1944 Henry V, the same speech has no musical accompaniment whatsoever.62 Of the battle orations considered here specifically, however, Olivier’s is one of only two to feature no concurrent musical scoring (the other being Gisla’s in The Vikings: “To the Gates!”).63 Elsewhere, including in Hugo Friedhofer’s score for the roughly contemporary 1948 Joan of Arc, the approach is similar to that in Branagh’s later film: music heightens, accentuates, reinforces the words of the speeches. Similarities aside for a moment, though, it is true that the music in each case considered here can sound outwardly quite different, as each oration has unique concerns to be supported by its score. Bagpipes are heard at the climax of Wallace’s speech in Braveheart to musically represent 59

Julie Sanders, Shakespeare and Music: Afterlives and Borrowings (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007), 142. 60 Sanders, Shakespeare and Music, 141. Samuel Crowl views the intent of Branagh and Doyle similarly, asserting that “Doyle’s musical aims are clearly in concord with Branagh’s dramatic genius for accessibility and clarity in performing Shakespeare’s texts.” Crowl, The Films of Kenneth Branagh (London: Praeger, 2006), 24. 61 Claudia Gorbman states that “[n]arrative film music ‘anchors’ the image in meaning.” In the Classical Hollywood films to which modern screen composers remain indebted for their musical sounds and strategies, “[s]oundtrack music reinforces what is (usually) already signified by dialogue, gestures, lighting, color, tempo of figure movement and editing, and so forth.” Gorbman, Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music (London: British Film Institute, 1987), 84. 62 Linda Schubert suggests generally that “many of Branagh’s choices, including musical ones, are deliberately the opposite of those informing Olivier’s movie.” Schubert, “Scoring the Fields of the Dead: Musical Styles and Approaches to Postbattle Scenes from Henry V (1944, 1989),” in Shakespeare and the Middle Ages: Essays on the Performance and Adaptation of the Plays with Medieval Sources or Settings, ed. Martha Driver and Sid Ray (London: McFarland & Company, 2009), 62–77 (68). 63 Though Olivier’s Henry V is a self-consciously cinematic adaptation, the theatrical background and style of its director and star might explain Olivier’s decision to carry the famous St. Crispin’s Day speech on his own, without the tools of music and visual editing to which the popularizer Branagh was more amenable even in his first film as director. Other dialogue in Olivier’s film is underscored by music.

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Scotland (most filmgoers would be unlikely to notice that they actually hear the Irish uillean pipes64), for example, while in Joan of Arc (1948) the heroine’s apparent communion with God directly before the attack on the Tourelles is represented by the sound of a wordless choir and church bells on the soundtrack. As well as drawing on these conventions for musical meaning established intertextually over musical history, oration music can refer intratextually to the other music of the film or franchise in which it sits, and so to that music’s related images and ideas. The tune that plays as Wallace arrives on the battlefield, for one, is heard early in Braveheart as he (as a young boy) witnesses his father and brother leave to fight the English, and later recurs as he cries “Freedom!” during his public execution, as well as in other places. The repeated chord progression of Branagh’s “St. Crispin’s Day” is similarly heard several times subsequently during the sequence in which Henry V courts and marries Catherine of Valois, implying that winning over a princess is not that different from winning over one’s troops. And the orations of the LOTR films, as a final example, utilize material that composer Howard Shore draws upon across the whole saga. When Aragorn, in The Return of the King, proclaims before the Black Gates that “it is not this day” on which “we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship,” for instance, the rousing brass melody that marks his climactic words is the “fellowship theme,” a melody that first appears in The Fellowship of the Ring and that is associated with the titular band of brothers (and so, as in Return of the King, also with brotherhood more broadly).65 The musical language employed in scoring these orations also relates to each composer’s personal style. Horner’s Braveheart score presents a particularly clear example of this. The music is recognizably Horner’s, written in the same orchestral idiom as his scores to films as disparate in subject matter as Apollo 13 (1995, dir. Ron Howard) and Titanic (1997, dir. James 64

The piper heard on the Braveheart soundtrack has said that composer James Horner “wanted the uillean pipes because they fitted into an orchestra better than the Scottish pipes,” being “not so loud and commanding,” and having “a greater range of notes.” Eric Rigler, quoted in Paul English, “Hollywood Bagpiper Eric Rigler Reveals how the Music for TV Series Outlander was Created,” Scotland Now (March 5, 2015), , last accessed March 15, 2017. 65 A musical “theme” is defined as a piece of musical material – a melody, for example – that recurs within a musical work (e.g., a symphony or a film score). Themes attached to specific characters, ideas, or locations in a mixed-media work are commonly known as leitmotifs. Film composers commonly use leitmotifs, following the example set by Richard Wagner in his operatic music dramas. On the development of the “fellowship theme” as a leitmotif in Shore’s Lord of the Rings scores, see Judith Bernanke, “Howard Shore’s Ring Cycle: The Film Score and Operatic Strategy,” in Studying the Event Film: “The Lord of the Rings,” ed. Harriet Margolis, Sean Cubitt, Barry King, and Thierry Jutel (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008), 176–84 (180–3).


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Cameron); even the Celtic inflections of Braveheart reappear in the latter. While similar can be said of other composers’ work, the Braveheart oration music is additionally recognizable in a more specific (and remarkable) sense, in that it shares melodic and other material with battle-oration accompaniments from Horner’s scores to the American Civil War drama Glory (1989, dir. Edward Zwick) and the Cristero War-set For Greater Glory (2012, dir. Dean Wright). This is not the only case in which Horner “seems to recycle his own compositions.”66 For our purposes, Horner’s self-recycling for and from Braveheart raises an important question. What differentiates the medievalist film battle oration from other film battle orations, musically speaking? Or, to put it another way, what is medieval about these scores? The answer that Horner supplies – “not much” – is replicated in less exact ways elsewhere, suggesting that medievalbattle-oration conventions for musical scoring are not that (or at all) distinct from broader norms for scoring battle speeches in films.67 Brass and percussion instruments are prominently heard in most of the medieval-set examples here – including the thirty-second Capital One commercial, which relies heavily upon these instruments to help ensure its setup is immediately recognizable as a movie battle speech – but can also be heard accompanying battle orations in modern settings in films such as Street Fighter (1994, dir. Steven E. de Souza) and Independence Day (1996, dir. Roland Emmerich), for instance. In using these instruments, filmmakers and composers appeal primarily to the modern audience’s awareness of their military associations, and appear unconcerned with period specificity. Indeed, the instruments we actually hear in all cases are modern, as is the broadly post-Romantic musical language; Branagh notes explicitly that for Henry V he “required no authentically ‘medieval’ sounds; the score needed to be of our time, classically rich


Miguel Mera, “Invention/Reinvention,” Music, Sound, and the Moving Image 3.1 (2009): 1–20 (6–7). 67 On a related note, Balian’s speech in Kingdom of Heaven is scored not by Harry GregsonWilliams, the film’s composer, but by pre-existing music written by Jerry Goldsmith for another medieval film: The 13th Warrior (1999, dir. John McTiernan, Michael Crichton). Kirsten Yri, “Inverting the Epic: The Music of Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven,” in Music in Epic Film: Listening to Spectacle, ed. Steven Smith (New York: Routledge, 2017), 189–209 (206). That the track does not come from a battle-oration scene in The 13th Warrior illustrates that film-music conventions are not specific to particular types of scene either, while its pre-existing status serves as a useful reminder that music’s use and utility in film is as much about placement as composition. For a close reading of how pre-existing music (somewhat more adapted in this case) by Ludwig van Beethoven scores King George VI’s 1939 speech to the nation in The King’s Speech (2010, dir. Tom Hooper), see Jonathan Godsall, “Listening to Beethoven in and through The King’s Speech,” The Avid Listener (February 29, 2016), , last accessed March 15, 2017.

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in tone but instantly accessible.”68 Only in Friedhofer’s Joan of Arc score is there any significant attempt at representing medieval music during a speech, and here only because trumpets and drums have diegetic roles as part of the French army (while other instruments continue to play nondiegetically). Moreover, this is inevitably only an attempt that cannot be truly authentic to real history, given that little evidence is available of what exactly medieval instruments looked like, and even less of how they were played.69 Much like the other components of a medieval film battle oration, then, a musical score need not be authentic other than in relation to film tradition in order to be effective for its cinema or television audience, at whom the music is aimed. When nondiegetic, as almost all of it is in the cases considered here, the music can only be aimed at that modern audience, a fact that again makes clear the target for the orations as wholes (of which the music is an integral part70). And, while battle-speech scoring uses conventions that extend beyond medieval film, our medieval examples undoubtedly helped to establish those conventions, and strengthen them through repetition. Structurally, take Horner’s score in Braveheart, which parallels the form of Wallace’s speech in much the same way as Doyle’s does Henry’s. As Wallace first appears and moves to address the Scottish leaders, his presence serves to momentarily calm not only an army slipping into disarray at the sight of the overwhelming English forces, but also the music: a relatively untidy mix of ideas settles into a stable, repeated chord progression (not dissimilar to the one in Doyle’s score) with clear rhythm and melody. When doubts arise among the Scots during the speech (“The English are too many”), or when Wallace rhetorically questions whether the soldiers, as “free men,” will choose to stay and fight, the music can be heard to wander and lack clear direction, only to settle again into stable patterns as he wins the respect and loyalty of his countrymen. And, of course, the score builds to a climax that coincides with Wallace’s final line and the cheering of the soldiers. Horner’s nondiegetic music, like Doyle’s, “holds a mirror up” to the diegetic words and action. 68

Branagh, liner notes to Henry V: Original Soundtrack Recording, CD (EMI CDC 7 49919 2, 1989). 69 See John Haines, Music in Films on the Middle Ages: Authenticity vs. Fantasy (New York: Routledge, 2014), particularly 45–8 on trumpet fanfares. As Helen Dell broadly argues, our modern relationship to medieval music is underpinned by “a number of assumptions […] that are neither historical nor musical,” relating instead to “already held notions, fantasies and ideologies of the ‘medieval’.” Dell, “Musical Medievalism and the Harmony of the Spheres,” in Cambridge Companion to Medievalism, ed. D’Arcens, 60–74 (60). 70 Doyle describes his “mirror” approach in Henry V as “in many ways operatic.” Doyle, liner notes to Henry V: Original Soundtrack Recording. Henry’s speech almost becomes a song through the addition of closely matched musical accompaniment, a tactic that seems to reach its inevitable conclusion in Branagh and Doyle’s “Hollywood musical” adaptation of Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000, dir. Kenneth Branagh).


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Correspondence between music and the other elements of an oration is less precise in other cases, but even the music-less strategies of the speeches in Olivier’s Henry V and The Vikings: “To the Gates!” episode arguably conform to a broader structural strategy observable in the “mirror” approach. The music may not play alongside the speeches in these examples, but it does frame them, dropping out just before the speaker begins, and returning soon after their conclusion. In this sense, it still supports the speaker – marking and making space for their speech – or appears even to do their bidding, like the music in other films that amplifies the words themselves. In the GOT episode “Valar Morghulis,” the music to Theon’s speech gives no hint of the upcoming insubordination of his men, working only with and for Theon before being silenced at the same moment. The post-battle sequence in Branagh’s Henry V reinforces this idea of music’s connection to the orator.71 Addressing his soldiers, Henry requests that the Latin hymns Non nobis and Te deum be sung. Non nobis is begun by a lone soldier, whose voice is soon joined by others, plausibly those of fellow soldiers. Over the course of a single three-and-a-half-minute tracking shot of the battlefield, however, the musical forces performing the hymn are gradually expanded to those of full choir (including women’s voices) and orchestra, clearly situated outside of the diegetic world. Here, more explicitly, the King seems to have these supernatural resources at his disposal, a notion that becomes even more literal if one notices that the lone soldier is played by Doyle (following the orders of his director as Henry). Henry Taylor refers to this example as one of “transdiegetic” music, that term “referring to sound’s propensities to cross the border of the diegetic to the nondiegetic and remaining unspecific,” and revealing “that filmic sound, unlike the image, is not place-specific and delimitated, and acts not solely to weld the images together (across shot edits), but also to engulf the spectator in the filmic experience.”72 In the words of his oration, Shakespeare’s Henry does not appeal to saintly intervention, but in the films of both Branagh and Olivier he need not, for music is already on his side, allowing him to win over not only his soldiers but also (and more importantly) the watching audience.


The musical approach to this scene is discussed and compared to that of the equivalent moment in Olivier’s film in Schubert, “Scoring the Fields of the Dead.” 72 Taylor, “The Success Story of a Misnomer,” Offscreen 11.8–9 (2007), , last accessed March 15, 2017; emphasis in original). One might also take this example to instruct that a film’s characters can sometimes hear and interact with supposedly nondiegetic music (in conventional, non-musical films), an idea discussed in Ben Winters, Music, Performance, and the Realities of Film: Shared Concert Experiences in Screen Fiction (New York: Routledge, 2014), 172–98. The role of music in supporting orators in the cases considered here could be read in this way, a possibility beyond the remit of this article.

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Conclusion As has been detailed above, the features of battle speeches in medieval film can vary, but the role they play in conveying significance to the audience remains fairly constant. In contrast to historical orations, the aims of which tended toward the practical, cinematic exhortations are aspirational: they speak not so much to the soldiers portrayed as to the audience, invoking modern-day, ambitious values meant to resonate with contemporary viewers. Moviemakers place these speeches in the mouths of protagonists whose situation is dire, but the very existence of the on-screen speech signals impending success in the upcoming fight for the heroes delivering the oration, despite the long odds facing them. Music accentuates the battle oration scene, supporting the orator’s cause while taking aim at the modern viewer’s (often unknowing) familiarity with conventions of film-musical communication by adopting fairly generic forms transcending medieval cinema. The communication theory of symbolic convergence helps explain why audiences have become acclimated to this feature of medieval film, using it to help construct meaning for events about which viewers probably know little. Yet, it is their familiarity and frequency that have allowed for battle oration scenes to be subverted. Filmmakers, even advertisers, have harnessed the power of this cinematic element, playing with it and repackaging it for their own purposes. Despite these permutations, and despite film producers’ first goal of connecting with their modern audiences, one can argue for kernels of “reality” in speech delivery scenes. The historical record is fickle, leaving behind fragmentary but tantalizing bits of information that often raise as many questions as they answer. Such is the case of the medieval battle speech – amply documented in history, but difficult to understand in practice. In trying to comprehend this important facet of medieval warfare, one could do worse than consider filmmakers’ creative attempts to breathe life into the battle oration.

Horns: Vikings, Adaptation, Evolution Kim Wilkins In 2011, Bethesda Game Studios released the action role-playing videogame Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.1 The game environment, a lovingly rendered open world, is based on the history, mythology, and geography of medieval Scandinavia. The packaging and a major proportion of the marketing material for the game feature the figure of a muscular man wearing medieval armor, with horns on his helmet that point downwards over his ears. This Dovahkiin or “dragon-born” avatar that players hope to emulate is a Viking, and the downward turn of his horns is more significant than might appear at first glance. I open with the example of the Dovahkiin because it is emblematic of a distinct moment in the representation of Vikings, in a distinct medium. This essay seeks to understand the moments and media of such representations through the lens of adaptation theory, extending it via the metaphor of evolution. Any medievalist will tell you, with varying shades of outrage, that no historical evidence supports Vikings wearing horns on their helmets. Such adornments would have made armor cumbersome and, more importantly, vulnerable: one angled knock would have removed the helmet. At all three major Viking-themed museums in the UK and Eire – Jorvik in York, England; Vikingar in Largs, Scotland; and Dublinia in Dublin, Ireland – interpretation boards and tour guides emphatically dispel the myth of Viking horns. It is an absence that has to be made repeatedly present. Louise D’Arcens tells of the tour guides in Jorvik wearing full Viking regalia with “alien bobbles” on their heads, “a very telling reflection of the necessity of evoking yet also avoiding the discredited horned helmet image of the Viking.”2 The recent turn towards representing a gritty, so-called realistic version of the Middle Ages for adult consumption in popular media has seen 1

Bethesda Game Studios, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Rockville, MD: Bethesda Softworks, 2011). 2 Louise D’Arcens, Comic Medievalism: Laughing at the Middle Ages (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2014), 167. Studies in Medievalism XXIX, 2019


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a waning in the use of horned helmets, for example in Michael Hirst’s television series Vikings (2013) or Brian Wood’s graphic-novel series Northlanders (2012), but horns still predominate. For example, they are comically ostentatious in Dreamworks’s 2010 film How to Train your Dragon, a menacing feature of Loki’s Aesir costume in Marvel’s Mighty Thor comic series, and an indispensable and highly recognizable aspect of the logo for the Minnesota Vikings football team. To forego horns is to risk not being recognized as a Viking. In many ways, it is these horns that have allowed Vikings to survive and thrive in contemporary culture: ask a lay person to describe a Saxon or a Norman and they are unlikely to be able to do so, but most could describe a rough outline of a Viking, and horns would likely be included. The horns, then, can be read almost as an evolutionary modification, an instance of “mutation and adjustment”3 that has allowed Vikings to be the fittest early medieval figure to survive in the popular imagination. It remains to ask what specific cultural conditions have demanded this fitness for survival. Instead of rejecting the horned helmet as an unacceptable anachronism, it is an invitation to argue not about what Vikings were, but about what Vikings continue to signify in contemporary Western popular culture. While condemnation of anachronism is, of course, not confined to representations of the Middle Ages, this argument is situated primarily in the field of medievalism studies, a field that considers the relationship of the medieval past to the present. It is also a field that has been concerned to theorize around what might be called fidelity criticism; that is, criticism that compares contemporary representations of the medieval with the medieval original (or a distilled idea of a medieval originary), and evaluates them in terms of faithfulness or otherwise to the source. Ever since Umberto Eco contrasted “responsible philological examination” with the lower-value “fantastic neomedievalism” in his essay “Dreaming of the Middle Ages,”4 scholars have struggled to move beyond the idea that representations of the medieval must be faithful to a real or true Middle Ages and that infidelities must be identified and corrected. William Fitzhugh, for example, in an essay timed to coincide with the opening of a Viking exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum, writes of the “stereotypic view of Vikings as crazed warriors bent on mayhem and destruction as they careen about the coasts of Europe in their ‘dragon ships’,” citing popular movies and football teams for the damage done to history. The bulk of his article is aimed at “educating” the “public” by arguing against this stereotype.5 A discourse that expresses the devalued secondariness of 3

Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Adaptation (New York: Routledge, 2006), 31. Umberto Eco, “Dreaming of the Middle Ages,” in his Travels in Hyperreality: Essays, trans. William Weaver (San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1990), 61–72 (63). 5 William Fitzhugh, “Vikings Arrive in America – Again!” Scandinavian Review 87.3 (2000): 50–6 (50). 4

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certain texts is reminiscent of the way adaptations are repeatedly invoked in contemporary culture. So, the second aim of this essay is to reflect, through the prism of medievalism, on the field of adaptation studies, in particular on the kinds of evolutionary pressures (a term I will explicate below) that come to bear on cultural expression. Recent adaptation theory has challenged what Linda Hutcheon calls a “critical orthodoxy” that tends to judge adaptations in terms of their fidelity to their sources.6 What is lost in adhering to such a critical orthodoxy is the possibility of analyzing what is culturally specific about an adaptation. As Robert Stam says, “fidelity in adaptation is literally impossible.”7 If this is the case, then fidelity in popular representations of the medieval is also impossible. In fact, it may not necessarily be critically worthwhile to identify infidelity. In what follows, I will evaluate these relevant ideas about adaptation, and then turn to a selection of manifestations of Vikings in popular culture. This selection is necessarily broad, to indicate the range of media involved, and includes televisual adaptations, children’s entertainment, and the activities of gaming communities. But the objects under study are specific: Viking horns, and what they mean now, in the twenty-first century. In the enduring anachronism of Viking horns, the processes of making history meaningful become apparent. By considering representation of the medieval alongside adaptation theory, I hope to suggest ways we might analyze those processes. From earliest mention in English, Vikings have been the monstrous Other. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s entry for 787 records the “first ships of the Danish men that sought land in England,” telling the story of a reeve who, presuming they were traders, greets them with offers to take them to town because, ominously “he nyste hwæt hi wæron” (he knew not what they were), and predictably for us, though unpredictably for the English at the time, the reeve is slain.8 Right through the early chronicles, Vikings are monstrous: plebs spurciss (“a filthy pestilence”), lues immunda (“a most vile people”), with rex foetidus (“a stinking king”) in Æthelweard’s Chronicle;9 from a “nation of seagoing robbers,” according to Malmesbury;10 committing “unspeakable evil” by “burning and plundering and manslaughter” in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle;11 “Danish tyrant[s]” in the Chronicles of Matthew Paris.12 Bestial, 6 Hutcheon,

Adaptation, 6–7. Robert Stam, “Introduction: The Theory and Practice of Adaptation,” in Literature and Film: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation, ed. Robert Stam and Alessandro Raengo (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005): 1–52 (16–17). 8 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, trans. and ed. M. J. Swanton (London: J. M. Dent, 1996), 55. 9 R. I. Page, “A Most Vile People”: Early English Historians on the Vikings (London: Viking Society, 1986), 3. 10 Page, Most Vile, 3. 11 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 127–8. 12 Brian J. Levy, “The Image of the Viking in Anglo-Norman Literature,” in Scandinavia and 7


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powerful, from the margins of the world, Vikings were medieval monsters made flesh. Their Otherness erased differences between them: “all Vikings as the same Viking,” with little account of variation from one nationality (Dane, Norse, etc.) to the next.13 Indeed, Vikings perform double service as Saracens in a late-medieval illuminated manuscript of Lydgate’s Lives of Saints Edmund and Fremund, which depicts Vikings with curved swords and turbans.14 In these texts, the Viking monstrous Other performs what Cohen calls “illustrative antithesis”: the appearance of Vikings “is a revelatory moment of ­assertion during which the underlying ideology may be glimpsed.”15 But Roberta Frank notes that early chroniclers also evidence admiring fascination with the Vikings, for example with the exoticness of their ships and their perceived attractiveness to English women. In fact, she argues that Vikings might have been the first “counter-culture heroes” as they began to settle and build communities in England and their influence was felt in art, literature, and society more generally.16 This point echoes the commonly expressed idea that monsters of any kind exert powers of attraction as well as powers of repulsion. Such a dynamic underpins the fascination displayed by Wordsworth and Southey, who admired the “spirit of liberty” in the stubborn and noble demands for freedom in stories of northmen.17 Attraction is also evident in the epic ruminations on freedom and the law in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen in the late nineteenth century. And it is via Wagnerian opera – particularly the influence of designers Julius Noerr and Theodor Pixis, and artist Arthur Rackham – that Vikings began to be represented with helmet decorations, most notably horns.18 For example, among Rackham’s illustrations to Wagner’s Ring des Niebelungenlied is Hagen bemusedly conversing with the treasure-keeping dwarf Alberich. Hagen has a cloak and spear, and an impressive set of auroch’s horns attached to his intricately embossed helmet.19 It is this kind of image that set the tone for the images that were to follow. Horns signify a number of things. They signify masculine sexual potency and fertility, given their association with fully grown, male animals and given Europe 800–1350: Contact, Conflict, and Coexistence, ed. Jonathan Adams and Katherine Holman (Turnhout: Brepols, 2004), 267–88 (281). 13 Page, Most Vile, 8. 14 Kathy Cawsey, “Disorienting Orientalism: Finding Saracens in Strange Places in Late Medieval English Manuscripts,” Exemplaria 21 (2009): 380–97. 15 Jeffrey J. Cohen, “The Use of Monsters and the Middle Ages,” Selim 2 (1992): 47–69 (66). 16 Roberta Frank, “Terminally Hip and Incredibly Cool: Carol, Vikings, and AngloScandinavian England,” Representations 100 (2007): 23–33 (27). 17 Peter Mortensen, “The Descent of Odin: Wordsworth, Scott and Southey among the Norsemen,” Romanticism 6.2 (2000): 211–33 (215). 18 Jonni Langer, “The Origins of the Imaginary Viking,” Viking Heritage 4 (2002): 6–9 (8). 19 Arthur Rackham, Rackham’s Color Illustrations of Wagner’s Ring (New York: Dover, 1979), 57.

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their phallic shape. They also signify paganism, given their association with pagan beliefs around the moon and figures such as Herne the Hunter or Pan. It is through this association that they come, too, to signify Christian notions of evil, such as the devil, and the monstrous more generally. But horns also signify something animalistic, and this is in keeping with ideas about Vikings as being bestial and without reason. The legends of the berserkers, wearing bearskin shirts during psychotropic battle frenzies, certainly subscribe to this idea. Indeed, such a view of Vikings is consonant with the way the Middle Ages are often pictured. They are called the Middle Ages for a reason: in the narrative of progress and supersession that Western culture subscribes to, the period sits between the two venerated periods of Antiquity and the Renaissance. They are in the middle: their function is to define and validate the two bracketing periods. When we reimagine the Middle Ages we are very much still saying something about the modern, the thing that has superseded and flattened them. The Renaissance, the rebirth of Classical values and ideals, necessarily had to imagine the intervening period as lightless and chaotic, a dark age out of which culture could be reborn. The Renaissance (or the early modern period, as it has been called more recently) becomes the precursor of modern subjectivity. By contrast, the medieval period becomes “the dense, unvarying, and eminently obvious monolith against which modernity and postmodernity groovily emerge.”20 Vikings (a name that itself came after their raids on Europe, and did not arise from a self-projected identity) are an irrational premodern people against whom we can compare ourselves and be more certain of our rational modernity. Horns are implicated in this process of securing “for modernity, its intelligibility to itself.”21 If we view Viking horns as a kind of evolutionary modification, we might then be able to reveal something about the modern environments to which they have been adapted. Theory and Approach To adapt, in its broadest sense, means to adjust to one’s environment: for example, human vision adapts to the dark. It is worth keeping this firstprinciples definition in mind when approaching adaptation in its more specialized iteration as a theory associated with media studies. What is never apparent in the broad definition of adaptation is the idea that the original state is necessarily better than the adapted state: after all, if one’s eyes did not adapt to the dark, certain things would not be possible, for example steering oneself around heavy furniture. Granted, adaptation is sometimes seen as 20

Carolyn Dinshaw, Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities. Pre- and Postmodern (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999), 15–19. 21 Louise Fradenburg, “‘So that we may Speak of Them’: Enjoying the Middle Ages,” New Literary History 28.2 (1997): 205–30 (211).


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an unwelcome process (adapting to a difficult situation, for example), but it is more often seen simply as a process of acclimatization, familiarization, or physiological necessity. The dynamic, which physiological adaptation shares with adaptation specific to media studies, is that (a) there is a change to (b) new circumstances. The charged rhetoric around adaptation that is recorded in words such as infidelity, betrayal, deformation, violation, vulgarization, and desecration is clearly only concerned with (a) the change.22 This ongoing scorn at what is changed is exemplified in the comments on a Facebook site for the 2011 adaptation of Marvel’s Thor (itself, of course, an adaptation of Old Norse literary texts). The preview photograph of Chris Hemsworth as Thor, without his iconic helmet, aroused much tension: “Look’s [sic] ok but NO HELMET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Another movie Marvel will sell out on? Will we again witness something Disney-itized for the mainstream masses […] probably. I know the object is profit but you can stay true to a comic icon & make money.” Elsewhere on the site, an illustration of Frigga provokes this comment: “They need to get this stuff right. It needs to be exactly how it is in Norse. I cant wait for this movie to come out but if they dont have the facts down straight im going to be mad [sic].”23 Even here, on a social-media site for a superhero movie based on a comic book that is based, in turn, on mythology, facts, truth, exactness, rightness are held up as the primary measures of the film’s credibility and value. Gérard Genette called adaptations texts “in the second degree,”24 explicitly pronouncing an adapted text’s relationship to a prior text, and certainly this is inescapable: adaptations are, by definition, based on something that came before. But taking this second-ness as a starting and ending point – that all adapted work cannot escape being compared to its source and therefore is not just second but secondary – limits us to evaluating adaptations based solely on a (presumed unfavorable) comparison with what has come before. What is lost is the possibility of analyzing what is culturally specific about an adaptation, that is (b) the new circumstances in which the adaptation is made manifest. The turn in adaptation theory against fidelity criticism, for example the work of Linda Hutcheon and Robert Stam, is characterized by a concern with these new circumstances, what Walter Benjamin would call the text’s own “presence in time and space.”25 Benjamin’s quotation alerts us to the moment of an adaptation, but equally important is the medium, which Stam argues is “[c]rucial to any discussion of adaptation.”26 Every medium has 22

Stam, “Introduction,” 54. Posts on , dated 10 December 2010, accessed 13 December 2010. 24 Gérard Genette, Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree, trans. Channa Newman and Claude Doubinsky (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997), 5. 25 Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Harcourt, 1968), 214. 26 Stam, “Introduction,” 16. 23

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unique and specific affordances and limitations that ultimately shape the text being adapted. The popular anachronism of Viking horns can be theorized in similar critical language. Placing adaptation theory in dialogue with contemporary popular representation of Vikings allows us to expand the boundaries of what can be considered adaptation. Hutcheon argues that to theorize adaptation we must contract its definition, and she favors the idea that adaptations are the same story told in different ways, rather than, say, sequels, fan-fiction, or anything that does not engage with what she calls “a recognisable other work.”27 While it is true that a broader definition would make theorizing adaptation difficult, saying for certain what might constitute a specific “recognisable other work” may be equally difficult in the field of medieval studies. Medieval literature unsettles the idea of a single originary text, after all, simply because of the dispersed authorship that exists in the field and the fact that single or originary texts are sometimes impossible to identify. For example, Guy Ritchie’s 2017 film King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is observably an adaptation of the Arthurian myth, but it does not adapt a specific “recognisable other work.” Rather, it adapts Arthur-ness from a composite body of Arthurian literature: some material that was originally intended as history (for example, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work), other material that was fiction, or could even be described as adaptation in itself (for example, texts by Sir Thomas Malory). Perhaps, then, the Middle Ages – all of it in all its diversity, color, texture, plurality, and contradictions – is what constitutes our “recognisable work” for adaptation: a kind of composite story of the premodern that has evolved over time from historical texts and from fictional texts and from other adaptations. It is not a single recognizable work, but is a rich source of adaptations nonetheless. Fidelity immediately becomes problematized with such recognition of diversity. There is no real, single, identifiable, and reproducible Middle Ages to be located that can be authentically recreated. Rather, there are a series of Middle Ages across time, responding to the unique media and moments in which they have been adapted. What is adapted faithfully and what changes are both dependent upon the needs of the new circumstances. Fidelities and infidelities to history alike become not static markers of value, but significant access points for understanding those circumstances of adaptation. I wrote earlier of the broad definition of adaptation and its more specific iteration as a media-studies term. One other specific iteration of the term belongs to the field of evolutionary science. In the Oxford Dictionary of Science, adaptation is defined as “[a]ny change in the structure or functioning of an organism that makes it better suited to its environment.”28 Vikings are not biological organisms, but they can be seen as cultural organisms. I am, 27 Hutcheon, 28

Adaptation, 8–9. Oxford Dictionary of Science (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).


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of course, not the first person to make an analogue between biological and cultural entities. Richard Dawkins wrote of “memes” as a cultural equivalent to genes: a meme is a “unit of cultural transmission” that replicates and evolves in the face of selective forces.29 Scott Atran extends Dawkins’s analogy, arguing that what memes share is not “‘syntactic structure’ (phenotype), but the underlying […] ‘semantic structure’ (genotype).”30 To explain the difference between phenotype and genotype, Daniel Dennett offers the example of West Side Story’s relationship to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The stories share the same genotype, that is, the same DNA. They each display, however, a different phenotype, that is, a different expression of that DNA.31 The metaphor of a Viking genotype and phenotype usefully helps frame the evolution of horns. DNA is a complex set of instructions, a sequence made of many interacting parts. Its complexity allows it to be responsive: not something distillable that is able to be preserved, or replicated faithfully, or remain somehow separate from its influences over time. Rather, what we might call “Viking DNA” has undergone replication, selection, recombination, and so on, all resulting in different phenotypes (that influenced its success), but with a clear line of heredity. To extend the metaphor fully, horns are one of the most successful phenotypical expressions of the Viking genotype (animalistic, pagan, masculine), which has influenced the success of the Viking in popular culture. However, the horns are not necessary to every phenotypical expression; the DNA may express itself differently in response to environment: in this case, the many variations afforded or limited by what are grouped here under the terms medium (form, genre, audience) and moment (history, culture, social relationships). Rather than dismissing historically inaccurate representations of Vikings because of horns, we should look at the conditions that have demanded them. For example, one might say that, in the nineteenth century, Vikings evolved horns as a response to an environment in which horns would allow them to thrive: the medium of opera, a medium characterized by larger-than-life aesthetics; and the moment of renewed interest in Germanic nationalism. To explain more compellingly my meaning, the readings below will demonstrate how a range of representations of Viking horns function for different media and in different moments. The Viking Supervillain The Viking gods Thor and Loki are originally derived from medieval Scandinavian religion, as practiced by countless worshippers in medieval 29

Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), 192. Scott Atran, “The Trouble with Memes: Inference versus Imitation in Cultural Creation,” Human Nature 12.4 (2001): 351–81 (357). 31 Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), 356. 30

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Viking culture but also as codified in two thirteenth-century texts (that is, after the Viking age had ended): Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda and a compilation of traditional tales called The Poetic Edda, of unknown authorship, preserved in a single Icelandic manuscript known as Codex Regius. Thor and Loki have most recently and prominently appeared in the Marvel Avengers film franchise, notably the 2012 Joss Whedon film The Avengers, which, at the time of writing, was the seventh highest-grossing film of all time. Adapting these Eddic characters to the medium of the superhero film has involved several changes, and two significant and recognizable mediations. The first is nineteenth-century German opera. In a key scene set outside an opera theatre in Stuttgart, Germany, Loki appears in his full Asgardian regalia, complete with horns. In a theatrical and grandiose speech worthy of a Nietzschean übermensch or an opera villain, Loki tells how humans long to be ruled so that they may release the burden of the will to power: “It’s the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end you will always kneel.”32 It is particularly apposite that Loki wears horns in this scene, given it is from Wagnerian opera that the horns are derived – specifically, Wagner’s Ring, which is said to have influenced Nietzsche. Loki’s horns, rather than marking him as the trickster god he is in the Eddic material, mark him as Viking-as-villain, harking back to the first mentions in English of Vikings as the monstrous other. In this costume, Loki functions as a fully fledged supervillain, a requisite character in a superhero film. In fact, Captain America compares Loki in this scene to Hitler, whose love for both Nietzsche and Wagner is well documented. In this scene, overtones of German nationalism are brought to bear on the representation of Loki, to more clearly mark him as sufficiently antagonistic and the stakes sufficiently high to drive the plot. The other mediation is via Cold War science fiction. The Mighty Thor comic-book series saw first publication in 1962, the same year as the Cuban missile crisis. The privileged relationship between comic books and science fiction saw Asgard, home of the Viking gods, reimagined as an alien planet, with futuristic cityscapes blending with medieval architecture. In The Avengers, the action unfolds around a glowing blue object called the Tesseract, an Asgardian artifact that made its first appearance in the Captain America movie as the super-villain’s potential weapon for turning the tide in World War II by destroying large cities, in a clear analogue to the atomic bomb. The Tesseract is also seen as a possible source of sustainable but dangerous energy, due to its emission of “gamma radiation.” The Tesseract, as a metaphor for nuclear power, revises Cold War anxieties around fears of enemy attack on 32

Kevin Feige (prod.) and Joss Whedon (dir.), The Avengers (United States: Paramount Pictures, 2012).


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large American cities and is ultimately used to open a portal for alien invasion of New York. Once again, it is Loki who controls the Tesseract and seeks to create war on earth with it by inviting incomprehensibly foreign enemies to fight for him. In this way, he updates the Cold War enemy and brings it more in line with contemporary fears of rogue nations or organizations who might be in possession of a “WMD” (weapon of mass destruction), one of the key terms mobilized in America’s war on Iraq and in its fear of Muslim extremists in general. Loki is the unknowable monstrous outsider, reimagined for the War-on-Terror present. Armed with a potential “dirty bomb” and a pair of horns, he is a twenty-first-century Viking supervillain. Vikings for Children Children’s entertainment is an ongoing source of representation of horned Vikings, and this medium is one of the key ways Viking DNA is spread. The demands of children’s entertainment exert their influence on the representation of Vikings. Cressida Cowell’s How to Train your Dragon franchise has spawned a series of books, films, a television series, and related merchandise. Rather than consider the film version of How to Train your Dragon, which often plays to adult sensibilities and humor, this essay considers Hiccup: The Viking who was Seasick, a children’s picture book. The picture book is by definition a visual medium, and illustrating for a younger audience demands that meaning in pictures is clear and evident. In this book, every Viking has horns. Indeed, the younger Vikings have tiny horns, while the oldest Viking has horns that are long and twisted, as though the Vikings actually grow them over time, rather than simply adorning their helmets with them: the biological metaphor of Viking horns is here literalized. The protagonist, the fearful and awkward Hiccup, has horns that are crooked, marking him visually as socially awkward and out of step with other Vikings: “The other Viking children wouldn’t let him join in their rough Viking games.”33 Indeed, this is a well-worn trope of children’s entertainment, and even the language echoes the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, whose own physiological mutation actually made him fitter for survival than his peers. By contrast, Hiccup’s father, the huge and hairy Stoick the Vast, fills up nearly an entire page in bold colors with his strong, masculine presence: “Wherever Stoick walked the ground trembled, flowers wilted and bunnies fainted. He hadn’t brushed his beard in thirty years.”34 Horns in these pictures signify masculinity, power, and animalism, a well-established phenotypical expression of Viking DNA that is underscored by the text: “Vikings were enormous 33

Cressida Cowell, Hiccup: The Viking Who Was Seasick (London: Hodder General Publishing Division, 2000), 2. 34 Cowell, Hiccup, 4.

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roaring burglars with bristling moustaches who sailed all over the world and took whatever they wanted.”35 In this very short phrase we see the usual depictions of size, violent and rapacious behavior, and untamed masculinity. This bold and simplistic representation is chosen precisely for the medium of children’s books; Vikings need to be huge and frightening here, because by the end of the book the lesson imparted is that even the most fearful person can face their fears and triumph: “they get over it […]. That’s what makes [Vikings] so brave.”36 Indeed one of the key functions of children’s entertainment in the twenty-first century is to offer lessons for improvement, mostly moral or educational. Children’s entertainment is rarely neutral: it is expected to impart values or knowledge, while at the same time being engaging enough for the short attention spans or entrenched cynicism of resistant readers.37 While Vikings are used for a moral lesson in the Cowell book, they are used for a history lesson in the television series Horrible Histories, based on the books by Terry Deary. This series repeatedly includes Vikings in its skits. There is a particular suitability here, of course: the popular conception of Vikings is that they are exceptionally horrible. In the song “Literally,” the hairy, axe-wielding Vikings sing, “We’re going to set this sleepy town alight: literally […]. You’re going to lose your head, my friend: literally.”38 The Viking as a character in children’s entertainment is engaging enough – ­horrible enough and potentially comic enough – to excite children to learn; one might argue that this dynamic is precisely the core dynamic of both the book and television series. In Horrible Histories, care is taken to inform children that the horned Viking is a myth: “Vikings didn’t actually go to battle with horns on their helmets. It’s a shame really, cos it’s a smashing look!” This same care is displayed on interpretation boards in the museums cited earlier. However, almost every heritage merchandise shop in the British Isles, including those attached to dedicated Viking museums, sells toy Viking helmets for children with horns attached. This incongruity alerts us that some aspect of the adaptive process is at work here. The two phenotypes of the horned Viking and the historically accurate Viking are co-located, but shaped by two different sets of demands. The medium of the museum, with its emphasis on education, careful curation, and preservation of knowledge, produces Vikings without horns. Indeed, the Jorvik Viking Centre in York meticulously recreates a village in Viking-age England, including its sounds and smells, with Norse-speaking animatronics who represent traders, 35 Cowell,

Hiccup, 2. Hiccup, 25. 37 Catherine Butler and Hallie O’Donovan, Reading History in Children’s Books (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 115. 38 “Literally (The Viking Song),” YouTube video, 2:36, posted by “The Horrible Page of History” (April 5, 2014), , last accessed August 1, 2017. 36 Cowell,


Studies in Medievalism

craftsmen, and families. This exhibit is literally on rails: museum attendees board a buggy that takes a set route through the museum. On all levels, this is Vikings as replay: a painstaking recreation of the past. There is no cocontribution to the production of meaning: no matter how much movement is built into the exhibit, it is ultimately a static display of knowledge. Once outside the educational space, however, Vikings become play. Both versions of the Vikings are constructions, and the relationship between them presents a thought-provoking incongruity. On the one hand, the obvious anachronism of one legitimizes the claim to realism of the other. The line between exhibit and store has been crossed; children have left the space of education and arrived in a space of entertainment. On the other hand, by selling the discredited Viking helmets, the museum has allowed for the possibility that history may be manipulated by the demands of its users and perhaps the demands of “an environment driven by medievalist commodification.”39 At the very least, it is an open acknowledgement that realistic Vikings are not necessarily fun Vikings. Playing Vikings It is not only children who play at being Vikings. One of the largest populations of Viking re-enactors in Britain exists in the Scottish town of Largs, where every year they recreate the thirteenth-century Battle of Largs. A number of these re-enactors are featured as actors in the educational film played in Largs’ Viking museum Vikingar, and others work as tour guides. While all due care is taken with historical accuracy in serious recreation, one recreationist tour guide confided that sometimes these very same people take to the streets of Largs for “larping” (live-action role playing) in the most ostentatious horns they can acquire. That serious re-enactors should take pleasure in something they know is an anachronism (an anachronism that they actively debunk in other contexts) points to the ongoing pleasure to be derived by the horned Viking image, and the desire to play with that phenotypical expression. The identical medium (the re-enactor’s body) produces a different Viking in a different moment (the moment of play). Revealed here are some of the small social transactions (desire, pleasure, the transmission of knowledge) that constitute evolutionary pressure. While re-enactment and larping as Vikings may seem limited to a small, defined subculture, popular culture more broadly indulges a desire to play as Vikings through the medium of the medievalist fantasy role playing game (RPG). I return, then, to the Dovahkiin of my introduction, which is the figure whose silhouette first prompted my interest in this research. While there are several races to choose from in Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (hereafter, 39 D’Arcens,

Comic Medievalism, 4.

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Skyrim), the Dovahkiin is the most commonly used figure in the marketing, and he is from the Nord race: he is a Viking. Vikings are not new in RPGs. The trope of raiders from the North is widespread in the genre, whether they are called Vikings, barbarians, or some other race name, such as the Vyrkul in World of Warcraft. They are usually large of body and large of voice. For example, the female barbarian playable in Blizzard Entertainment’s Diablo III is tall and blonde, with a deep voice and Northern European accent. Vikings are suitable figures for RPGs because of their association with violence and brutality. This is especially so for one of the cornerstone classes of the RPG, the “melee” class: that is, the class armed with a big weapon who stands close to the enemy and deals significant damage. In sum, there are significant and compelling reasons related to the medium of videogames (and the genre of RPG) that indicate the involvement of Vikings. Whether or not a game designer adds horns to Viking gear in these games tells us much about the moment. Recent figures show that Skyrim has sold in excess of twenty million copies worldwide.40 These sales figures indicate plainly that videogames are no longer a marginal or subcultural practice, but firmly in the mainstream. The mainstreaming of videogames indicates a large uptake by the casual gamer audience, but does not exclude the traditional hard-core gaming audience. It is to these two potential audiences that the marketing of the game is directed, and the downturned Viking horns on the Dovahkiin’s helmet are emblematic of this dual audience. The fetishization of detail is a widely acknowledged, though by no means universal, aspect of “geek” culture, and geeks often make up the hard core of the video-gaming audience. The extremes that members of geek culture go to in order to recreate superhero costumes at conventions, or speak authoritatively about skill selections and determining ability scores in RPGs, or insist upon detailed factual accounts of history and science, are a way of proving ownership of knowledge as much as a way of announcing affiliation or belonging. Sheldon Cooper, from the television series The Big Bang Theory, exemplifies the stereotype of the over-invested geek: on returning from a Renaissance fair he complains, “The tavern girl serving flagons of mead; now her costume was obviously Germanic, but in 1487 the Bavarian purity laws or Rhineheitsgebot severely limited the availability of mead. At best they would have had some sort of spiced wine.”41 Moreover, the turn in production of visual entertainment to extreme or “gritty” realism in history, as evidenced by the incredibly popular Game of Thrones television series, means that violence can be portrayed more realistically for greater visual impact. 40

gstaff, “E3 2013: ESO Arriving on PlayStation 4, Xbox One!” (June 10, 2013), retrieved August 1, 2017, from . 41 Chuck Lorre, “The Codpiece Topology,” in The Big Bang Theory, prod. L. Aronsohn (Burbank, CA: Warner Bros, 2008).


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In sum, the demands of the moment mean that a more historically accurate representation of Vikings must be supported, but the acknowledgement of a less invested, more casual gaming audience needs to indicate the kind of pleasure that can be had in the game. Evidence about the various audiences of Skyrim can be derived from the modding community, a community of users who produce playable add-on material (modifications) for videogames. A number of modification packs for Skyrim exist, including The Chronicles of Steel, which promises that its weapons are based on “historical research,” and Viking Chainmail, whose stated purpose is to satisfy the “countless requests for an authentic, historical, Viking themed set of armor.”42 The existence of these mods indicates a gamer community that desires historically accurate play. By contrast, there are also a number of modification packs that seem to relish upsetting accuracy or even seriousness in the game, most notably the ones that incorporate characters from My Little Pony or Thomas the Tank Engine. And, of course, there are many more players who have no strong feelings either way and simply play the game as it is presented. The Dovahkiin figure, then, is emblematic of the need to appeal to and satisfy multiple audiences. The downturned horns allow the medievalist geek to at once be placated by Skyrim’s intentional avoidance of a famous historical inaccuracy, yet still identify the game as a virtual platform onto which they may draw medieval history. The existence of the horns also allows casual gamers (who will notice there is a race called Nords who speak in thick Northern European accents) to connect the sign of the horned Viking helmet to their lay knowledge of Vikingness, despite its historical inaccuracy. The Dovahkiin’s downturned horns, then, become representative of particular relationships with gamer identities, offering specific pleasures (actual and potential). They are a consideration of the pleasures of hard-core and casual audiences (medium) and they tap into both the desire for the medieval-ashistory and the medieval-as-fantasy (moment). The Skyrim figure at once signifies essential, popularly understood Vikingness through the inclusion of horns (Vikings for play), but concedes to a more realistic Middle Ages by turning the horns down (Vikings replayed). Conclusion This essay has been concerned with how the theory of adaptation and the related metaphor of evolution can contribute to an understanding of Vikings’ ongoing representation in popular culture as a cultural process of selection and replication. My aim has been to reframe medievalism’s traditional 42

hothtrooper94, “Viking Chainmail Armor” (June 11, 2013), retrieved August 1, 2017, from .

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concerns about authenticity in order to open up questions about how representations of the medieval respond to their environments to meet the needs of their producers and receivers. Vikings are a case study through which these ideas are illuminated in engaging and highly visible ways, none more visible than the horns they (sometimes) wear on their helmets. The social and cultural demands for horns in some instances have spawned one phenotype of Viking, while the social and cultural demands for no horns have spawned another. In both cases, the constructedness of history is exposed as being the result of processes afforded by the medium of representation and the moment in which it takes place. Whether or not these phenotypes continue to thrive will depend very much on the shifting and contingent evolutionary pressures of medium and moment that arise in popular culture over time.

Bidding with Beowulf, Dicing with Chaucer, and Playing Poker with King Arthur: Neomedievalism in Modern Board-Gaming Culture Timothy S. Miller Ways to Play in the Middle Ages: An Overview of Neomedieval Board Gaming The past decade has seen a tremendous outpouring of scholarly work on medievalism in digital gaming, an unabating tide of academic interest that would be justifiable even if only because of the prodigious number of neomedieval games released each year. Under the influence of Tolkienian fantasy and its gamified iterations in Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing settings, a genericized version of the medieval West has become a favorite setting for a number of different gaming genres, electronic and otherwise.1 There are video games based on particular medieval narratives and settings, such as Ubisoft’s 2007 movie tie-in title Beowulf: The Game, but also innumerable fantasy roleplaying games (World of Warcraft, The Elder Scrolls), as well as real-time strategy games (Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings), and even first-person shooters and stealth games (Chivalry and Assassin’s Creed, respectively). In large part because of the fascinating complexity of the social dynamics that can arise in role-playing games, many scholars have focused particular intensity on the various medieval MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) both predating and postdating the byzantine exercise in fantastic 1

See especially Oliver M. Traxel, “Medieval and Pseudo-Medieval Elements in Computer Role-Playing Games: Use and Interactivity,” in Studies in Medievalism XVI: Medievalism in Technology Old and New, ed. Karl Fugelso and Carol L. Robinson (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2008), 125–42, and Daniel T. Kline, “Participatory Medievalism, Role-playing, and Digital Gaming,” in The Cambridge Companion to Medievalism, ed. Louise D’Arcens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 75–88.

Studies in Medievalism XXIX, 2019


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neomedievalism that is World of Warcraft, still the most popular MMORPG in the world.2 Our understanding of the social dynamics and cultural work of medievalist gaming, however, can be deepened significantly by broadening our ludological inquiry to encompass also the conventional tabletop board game. Just as digital gaming has become increasingly popular – and indeed an increasingly popular vehicle for neomedievalism – so too has the boardgame industry experienced significant growth and diversification in the past twenty or so years, most visibly in Europe and the US. The 1990s witnessed a kind of renaissance in hobby board gaming epitomized by the unexpected international popularity of so-called “German-style board games” or “eurogames” such as Settlers of Catan (1995) and then Carcassonne (2000), as well as later hits such as the deck-building card game Dominion (2008). Is it a coincidence that all three of these games, among the best-selling titles in contemporary hobby gaming, have neomedieval themes, themes that are additionally emphasized in some of the subsequent expansions to each base game? What is the appeal of gaming in the Middle Ages? I intend this essay as a far from exhaustive overview of (neo)medievalism in contemporary board-game culture that will more thoroughly examine only a small selection of games, and specifically a selection of games bearing closely on my own primary areas of specialization as a scholar of medieval English literature. As in the video-game sphere, in board-gaming culture we find an unrelenting fascination with the medieval. The descriptions and analyses of various neomedieval board games that follow will allow us to begin addressing a number of interrelated questions that emerge at the intersection of medievalism and modern board games. As a literary scholar interested in adaptation more generally, I will be particularly concerned with tracing the nature of the relationship between neomedieval board games and the specific literary texts on which several are based. But numerous related questions of course arise, and can only be partially answered here. Why, for one, do board gamers seem to like playing in the Middle Ages so much when they play board games? In what ways does board-game medievalism resemble or differ from medievalism in video games, or indeed medievalism in other forms of entertainment and cultural production? What is the relationship, if any, of neomedieval board games to the play of board games in the European 2

On medievalism and its relationship with some of the unique dynamics of MMORPGs, see, among many others, Lindsey Simon-Jones, “Modern-Day Ring-Givers: MMORPG Guild Cultures and the Influence of the Anglo-Saxon World,” in Studies in Medievalism XXIV: Medievalism on the Margins, ed. Karl Fugelso, with Vincent Ferré and Alicia Montoya (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2015), 217–35, and Rabia Gregory, “Citing the Medieval: Using Religion as World-Building Infrastructure in Fantasy MMORPGs,” in Playing with Religion in Digital Games, ed. Heidi A. Campbell and Gregory Price Grieve (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014), 134–53. Scholarship on World of Warcraft in particular has flourished in several interdisciplinary fields beyond medieval and medievalism studies.

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Middle Ages? Why, in short, do people produce and play so many of these medievalizing games? Stewart Woods, in his monograph on Eurogames – still the best academic account of the distinct sphere of “hobby gaming” or “eurogaming” that emerged in the later twentieth century – argues that, “unlike traditional games, modern games are a manufactured commodity, designed and published at a specific time in history, and produced for a particular market and for essentially commercial reasons.”3 Scholars of neomedievalism already know that the Middle Ages sell, but I propose to address how and why the Middle Ages sell games specifically – or, at the least, to begin to articulate just what is being sold to players. The latter portions of this essay will single out only a few board game adaptations of canonical medieval texts for close examination, but the sheer scale of board-game medievalism is staggering. The phenomenon is at least a century and a half old, and the pace of new games launched each year continues to increase. As I write in early 2017, there are well over 2,500 separate board-game products filed under the category “Medieval” on the popular Internet database of board and card games BoardGameGeek, meaning that roughly 3% of all games listed on the site rely on a medieval theme.4 Yet the diversity of these games also impresses with its range, for one can find all major genres of contemporary hobby games represented in the subset of those with neomedieval theming, including chess-like abstract strategy games, deduction games on the Clue/Cluedo (1949) model, sprawling miniatures-based war games, simple trick-taking games, elaborate economic simulators, whimsical toy-like games for young children, highly competitive collectible card games on the model of the enormously successful Magic: The Gathering (1993–present), and many others. As of May 2017, the ten most commonly owned medieval-themed games on BoardGameGeek appeared as follows: Catan with ~92,000 copies, Carcassonne with ~90,000 copies, Dominion with ~71,000 copies, Citadels (2000) with ~49,000 copies, Castles of Burgundy (2011) with ~33,000 copies, Alhambra (2003) with ~24,000 copies, Shadows Over Camelot (2005) with ~24,000 copies, Sheriff of 3

Stewart Woods, Eurogames: The Design, Culture, and Play of Modern European Board Games (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2012), 16–17. 4 For purposes of comparison, the number of games filed under the “Medieval” category roughly quintuples those flagged “Renaissance,” and is closer to half those designated “World War II.” Because BoardGameGeek catalogs every expansion to a game with its own individual entry, these figures also include: several small expansions and modules for larger-base games; titles with non-European settings; and many obscure and self-published games that may not have reached a wide audience. While I have restricted the scope of this article to the Western Middle Ages, distinct issues naturally arise when board gamers “play” in the imagined spaces of the exoticized medieval East. See, for example, Will Robinson, “Orientalism and Abstraction in Eurogames,” Analog Game Studies I.V (December 2, 2014), , last accessed October 8, 2017.


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Nottingham (2014) with ~23,000 copies, The Resistance: Avalon (2012) with ~22,000 copies, and Caylus (2005) with ~22,000 copies.5 Because the website represents only a small fraction of gamers, the number of people who have played each of these games is surely much higher. The “blockbuster” titles above – such as Catan, Carcassonne, and Dominion – number among the best-selling games in general represented on BoardGameGeek, yet we should note that their medieval theming is comparatively minimalist when we consider the full range of neomedieval games, many of which more thoroughly explore their medieval themes or antecedent texts and/or historical periods. We can also observe that the number of board games named after medieval port cities and fortified towns is not coincidental, as a considerable fraction of eurogames of all themes employ game mechanics simulating the construction of buildings, as well as the buying, selling, shipping, and/or trading of goods. In many of these neomedieval games, then, the Gothic architecture and castle-centered urban planning may be little more than window-dressing, and could be – and sometimes actually are in reprintings and variants – exchanged for the ornamentation and mercantile systems of another era without changing much about the experience of playing the game. At the opposite end of the spectrum of relative indebtedness to the Middle Ages, some game designers have adopted particular medieval narratives as the basis for their games, including, as this essay explores in greater detail below, Beowulf, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and (briefly) Arthurian legend. In pointing out that some neomedieval board games appear to have much more to do with the Middle Ages than do others, I do not intend to suggest any hierarchy of “authenticity” or “quality” (however we might judge the latter), but rather their relative interest to a medievalist, there generally being more to say about games having more developed connections with particular medieval texts, historical figures, and so on. After all, it is surely important in itself to remark the fact that, while adaptations of canonical medieval texts have, to date, never made for the most popular of neomedieval game experiences, collectively neomedieval game experiences have themselves become some of the most popular in hobby board gaming as a whole. Originating in and shaped by the convergence of several very different tributaries, from historical wargaming to fantasy role-playing games to the 5

These numbers are no substitute for real sales figures, but the latter are notoriously difficult to obtain: this data should nevertheless provide rough indications of relative popularity. I have excluded expansions that would otherwise appear on this list, such as the explicitly medievalizing Catan: Cities & Knights (1998). The number of copies owned drops off sharply beyond these larger titles exceeding 20,000 owners, but over 10,000 copies are still registered for various other neomedieval games, including Village (2011), Castle Panic (2009), Kingdom Builder (2011), Kingsburg (2007), The Pillars of the Earth (2006), Biblios (2007), Troyes (2010), and Orléans (2014).

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mass-market family games of Parker Brothers et al., the terrain of modern neomedieval board gaming is as wide and varied as modern board-game culture itself. I argue here that, in a parallel fashion to how so many modern board games – especially those popular in contemporary hobbyist subcultures – are reliant for the pleasures they generate on the complexity and diversion of social interactions among players, medieval board games rely for much of their energy on summoning the Middle Ages as a broader canvas across which medievalist play can be performed. As in those digital games whose popularity is fostered by or even depends on various forms of emergent player behavior – or even deliberate modifications and rule-bending/­breaking – rules in “analog” board gaming may also be violated and altered at will, or other elements incorporated into the experience of play that have no direct relation to the ruleset. When they play a neomedieval board game, players bring themselves to the board, and also their preconceptions about the Middle Ages, as medieval board games perforce become gateways to playing medievally, so to speak, facilitating a kind of “emergent medievalism,” encouraging and structuring a broader form of play with the Middle Ages that is mediated but not necessarily circumscribed by the rules, mechanics, and experience of the board game itself. Significantly, neomedieval games allow players to play in a medieval space even though they may not be playing a board game resembling any that existed in the Middle Ages. For reasons of space, I will not be discussing in any depth the continuing popularity of those traditional games popular in both the Middle Ages and the present, such as backgammon or chess, except to the extent that these games play a role in the development of certain neomedieval games. Of course, the lively afterlives of these medieval games remain fascinating in themselves. For instance, in tourist shops across northern Europe and elsewhere one can purchase, among other neomedieval curios, modern sets of tafl, a popular family of medieval abstract strategy games sometimes advertised under the misnomer “Viking chess.”6 Rarely, modern hobby games will seek inspiration in medieval games, and Woods, for example, describes Steve Jackson’s long-lived tank-fighting game Ogre (1977) as “broadly reminiscent of the hnefatafl family of abstract


For the classic history of games such as backgammon and hnefatafl, see H. J. R. Murray’s A History of Board-games Other than Chess (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952), which has since been complemented but not replaced by David Sidney Parlett’s compendious Oxford History of Board Games (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999). On the interrelation of hnefatafl and the discourse(s) of medievalism both inside and outside of gaming, see Leon Wild, “Gaming with Odin: Myth, Context, and Reconstruction of Hnefa-tafl, an Old Norse Board Game,” in Neomedievalism in the Media: Essays on Film, Television, and Electronic Games, ed. Carol L. Robinson and Pamela Clements (Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 2012), 189–217. The role of such games on the medieval/Renaissance fair circuit also demands further critical exploration.


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games”: there is no one single form that neomedievalism takes in modern board games.7 The history of neomedievalism in board-gaming culture with which I am more concerned here begins nearer to 1888 than hnefatafl’s heyday of circa 888, the former being the year in which 22-year-old George Swinnerton (Geo. S.) Parker published a game he called Chivalry, an original abstract strategy game not dissimilar to chess in several respects. Although barely remembered today, Chivalry enjoyed great popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries, and marks a significant development in the prehistory of modern gaming medievalism. In 1930, Parker’s looming titan of a company, Parker Brothers, republished the same game under the new title Camelot, and an early box cover advertises it as “The Greatest of Modern Games for Men and Boys.” On the same cover, two mounted knights with lances raised flank additional text describing the game as “Quickly and easily learned” and “An exciting Battle Game a hundred times more lively than Checkers”; an earlier advertisement for Chivalry in an 1895 issue of Munsey’s Magazine also includes blurbs by both a “well-known checkerist and authority” and “one of the most prominent chess-players of Massachusetts” comparing it favorably to the traditional games of their respective expertise.8 Such rhetoric, coupled with the medievalist iconography of the game’s Arthurian theming and graphic design, paradoxically invite potential customers to play in the Middle Ages, but precisely by engaging in a game superior to the kind of board game actually played during the Middle Ages. Checkers or draughts, of course, is an ancient game understood to be an unusual chess variant in Alfonso X’s monumental 1283 compilation known today as The Book of Games (Libro de los juegos, originally Libro de axedrez, dados, e tablas),9 and the bulk of more recent neomedieval games implicitly promise just the experience described in the advertising copy for Chivalry and Camelot: the space of play will be located both inside and outside of the Middle Ages, thoroughly modern yet also somehow appealingly medieval. The promised excitement, it seems, derives simultaneously from the novelty of the cutting edge and the pleasures of temporal distance. Parker sought to release a proprietary game appealing to existing players of checkers and chess desirous of a change. Most significantly, his strategic 7 Woods,

Eurogames, 38. Reprinted in the omnibus Munsey’s Magazine XIV (New York: Frank A. Munsey, 1896), 23. 9 On Alfonso’s book, see Sonja Musser Golladay’s hefty doctoral dissertation, “Los libros de acedrex dados e tablas: Historical, Artistic and Metaphysical Dimensions of Alfonso X’s Book of Games” (University of Arizona, 2007), and Jennifer Cooley, “Games for the Nation: A Postmodern Reading of Alfonso X’s Libro de ajedrez, dados y tablas,” in Studies in Medievalism XIII: Postmodern Medievalisms, ed. Richard Utz and Jesse G. Swan (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2004), 143–58. 8

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adoption of a medieval theme was intended to appeal to a mass audience rather than one with specialized interests. Of course, it would be reductive to conclude that purchasers of Parker’s game in 1888, 1930, and 1960 – the year that the Lerner and Loewe musical of the same name boosted the game’s sales – did so for precisely the same reasons, or indeed for the same reasons motivating a twenty-first-century player of a newer neomedieval game.10 Nevertheless, we can see from this glimpse into the long history of neomedieval board gaming – a phenomenon naturally entwined with the respective manifestations of medievalism in the different eras of their play – that the answer to why board gamers might be attracted to medieval settings for their games must overlap with the reasons why so many people desire to play in the Middle Ages more generally by reading historical fiction, watching fantasy films, and dressing in costumes at Renaissance festivals. In Eco’s immortal words, “it seems that people like the Middle Ages,” and Parker Brothers understood at least this by the late nineteenth century – and capitalized on it.11 The economics behind the making and marketing of board games have evolved in major ways since Parker and his company helped birth the industry, yet, to a degree, identifiable commercial factors continue to account for the proliferation of neomedieval games. In part, the Middle Ages has become such a popular setting for game designers for the simple reason that no one owns King Arthur, as it were. As a kind of public domain “megatext,” medieval settings and stories such as the Arthurian legends come with free built-in consumer recognition in a market where lucrative licenses for the rights to make games tied to popular media-franchises are enormously expensive but fiercely fought over, particularly such marquee properties as Star Wars, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and Marvel and DC’s superheroes, in addition to any number of less high-profile properties. Indeed, the concept of adapting successes in other media ecologies as board games is as old as the early days of Parker Brothers, and today many of the bestselling titles of the major board-game companies remain based on


For more on the rise of Parker Brothers and the commercialization of modern board gaming, see Philip E. Orbanes’s monograph The Game Makers: The Story of Parker Brothers from Tiddledy Winks to Trivial Pursuit (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2004). Orbanes notes that Chivalry/Camelot remained George Parker’s favorite game throughout his life, such that he hired “celebrities, such as Laurel and Hardy, to appear in publicity photos showing them playing Camelot” (75), and allegedly would flip the board, so to speak, in order to cheat his way to victory when losing to his grandson at the game (118). The game experienced its temporary – and likely its last – resurgence in popularity after Parker’s death when Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot became a cultural phenomenon (137). 11 Umberto Eco, “Dreaming of the Middle Ages,” Travels in Hyperreality: Essays (San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986), 61–72 (61).


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licensed properties.12 Recognizable themes sell board games, and the Middle Ages represents less of an investment up front. In fact, some medieval board games even borrow public domain art rather than paying contemporary illustrators, and many of the numerous games based on the Battle of Hastings, for instance, draw extensively on the Bayeux Tapestry for their artwork. We can observe similar patterns with other public domain intellectual properties such as Sherlock Holmes and H. P. Lovecraft’s so-called Cthulhu Mythos, on which game designers continually draw for enormous numbers of games, and sometimes these “properties” even cross-fertilize, as in the popular medieval zombie game by Raphaël Guiton, Jean-Baptiste Lullien, and Nicolas Raoult, Zombicide: Black Plague (2015), or in Kristan Wheaton’s successfully funded Kickstarter project for a version of hnefatafl called “Cthulhu vs the Vikings.” Indeed, it is impossible to speak about contemporary hobby board gaming without mentioning the rise of self-publishing, crowdfunding, and new distribution models facilitated by the Internet. Two of the games covered extensively below – King Post’s Beowulf: A Board Game (2015) and Alf Seegert’s The Road to Canterbury (2011) – relied on Kickstarter for funding; King Post had also previously used Kickstarter for their 2013 adaptation of Melville’s Moby-Dick as a card game. Crowdfunding methods enabled by the Internet have joined with the older tradition of “print-and-play” games to allow amateur game designers to realize and share their games, and at its peripheries modern board-gaming culture is intelligible as participatory culture in the sense that has been so illuminating to scholars of medievalism in various media ecologies drawing ultimately on the work of Henry Jenkins.13 (Again, one need not privilege in any way – and should probably not generalize overmuch about – one type of neomedieval board game based on its identity as, for example, the product of a large publisher versus a small “independent” Kickstarter production.) If only because of the profusion of neomedieval games at a sustained pace over the decades, it seems clear that designers who may not have access to the resources of a large game company, even individuals working alone, have often turned to the Middle Ages for a theme for the sake of financial expediency as much as for other motivations, or perhaps even more so; both love and money have inspired the gamification of the Middle Ages. 12

In fact, game adaptations of popular literary works predate the birth of George Parker and modern intellectual property law: for an account of a card game spinoff based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, see Mark Kelley, “Learning to Play the Game of Unhappy Families: Sympathetic Reading and Sentimental Ownership in ‘Uncle Tom and Little Eva,’ a Card Game Adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association 45.2 (2012): 127–51. 13 For more on medievalism in digital gaming and participatory culture, see Serina Patterson, “Women, Queerness, and Massive Chalice: Medievalism in Participatory Culture,” in Studies in Medievalism XXIV, 63–74.

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It is important, also, to recognize the diversity of medieval board games and game designers on the market, and what we mean when we speak of a board-game “market” in the first place: some titles with medieval themes are high-end productions from the largest companies in the industry, posting hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue, while others are amateur, even amateurish, productions that recall the isolated moments in the history of amateur medievalism captured with such grace by Carolyn Dinshaw in her 2012 monograph How Soon Is Now?14 For example, the Middle Ages furnish a tremendous mine of material for such amateur-designed games to reuse and remix and reimagine, particularly those that rely on historical and/ or military simulation, as in wargames. While miniatures wargaming has become a significant money-making sector of an increasingly large tabletopgame industry (and an increasing number of board games themselves offer a number of detailed miniature models as a selling point), wargaming also has a long history of more modest distribution and remixing of rulesets through self-published and magazine-published scenarios. BoardGameGeek has indexed multiple games bearing the titles of Agincourt, Charlemagne, and 1066, most of them involved yet inexpensive wargames modeling famous battles – although numerous wargames exist that replicate far less famous skirmishes. Often, these prolific and characteristically intricate simulations of medieval warfare represent labors of love on the part of amateur medieval enthusiasts, overlapping in several ways with the Renaissance Faire and reenactment cultures that have received considerable attention in medievalism studies, yet board gaming has remained a relatively understudied chapter in the history Dinshaw begins to articulate for us, insisting as she does that we take “nonprofessionals and dilettantes seriously as they operate in nonmodern temporalities of their own.”15 Amateur wargame productions, of course, continue to be released alongside a much bigger business, and the pace of production of neomedieval wargames and other types of neomedieval games accelerated swiftly in the 1970s. In 1971, Gary Gygax of later Dungeons & Dragons stardom, along with Jeff Perren, published the first edition of the innocuous booklet Chainmail: Rules for Medieval Miniatures. Although Chainmail itself never achieved tremendous popularity outside of a limited circle of enthusiasts, the pamphlets concluded with a brief Fantasy Supplement that would prove the seed of the Dungeons & Dragons system (1974) and its indelible legacy of fantastic neomedievalism for future neomedieval fantasy games of all types.16 Similarly 14

Carolyn Dinshaw, How Soon Is Now?: Medieval Texts, Amateur Readers, and the Queerness of Time (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012). 15 Dinshaw, How Soon, xv. 16 Chainmail was well-received in the wargaming community and reprinted in several new versions; according to Nicholas J. Mizer, players embraced the ruleset because “[g]ames set


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to Parker’s description of Chivalry, Gygax and Perren position Chainmail as the culmination of a history of gaming dating back to the Middle Ages, claiming chess as a wargame. They thus advertise Chainmail as both appealingly old and appealingly new.17 Also noteworthy is the way in which Gygax and Perren argue that their game not only accurately depicts medieval combat, but could stimulate genuine historical exploration: The Middle Ages is probably one of the best known but least understood periods of history. We do not pretend that these wargame rules will add significantly to anyone’s knowledge, albeit they do reflect medieval warfare reasonably well, but they have a secondary purpose: Besides providing you with an exciting and enjoyable battle game, we hope that these rules will interest the wargamer sufficiently to start him on the pursuit of the history of the Middle Ages. Such study will at least enrich the life of the new historian, and perhaps it will even contribute to the study of history itself.18 I leave it to historians to determine how well such wargames and historical simulations may or may not represent the tactics, arms, and battles they claim to simulate, and will note more generally that such wargames remain an important background against which to understand game adaptations of medieval literary texts; they have achieved considerable numbers even though each individual game does not reach as large an audience as many other kinds of neomedieval board games. Also, while realistic wargames by their nature promise some degree of historical fidelity in their simulations, only occasionally do other kinds of neomedieval games rely on making players feel as if they are experiencing anything authentic about the Middle Ages, whether playing a genuine medieval game or proceeding through a medieval narrative. What, then, does it mean for a designer to “adapt” more closely a specific medieval text and/or storyworld to a board-game format? We will begin pursuing this question by examining a group of games inspired by a now-immortal medieval poem with a lively and controversial history of adaptation across media.

in the Middle Ages were underrepresented at the time, and medieval gaming was considered especially difficult to simulate” (“The Paladin Ethic and the Spirit of Dungeoneering,” The Journal of Popular Culture 47.6 [2014]: 1296–313 [1301]). 17 See Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren, Chainmail: Rules for Medieval Miniatures, 3rd edn. (Lake Geneva, WI: TSR Rules, 1979, 1975), 5. TSR, the company that Gygax would later co-found to market Dungeons & Dragons, also included a version of hnefatafl in the December 1987 issue of its Dragon magazine (#128), marketing the old as new again to an audience already interested in neomedieval game experiences. 18 Gygax and Perren, Chainmail, 8.

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“Gamen eft astah”: Beowulf as Board Game “Beowulf is min nama”: Beowulf’s name has retained a high degree of cultural currency in the early twenty-first century not simply because of the poem’s nearly unshakeable position at the beginning of the conventional undergraduate survey course on British literature, but also owing to: the niche that John Gardner’s 1971 retelling Grendel has carved out in the English curricula at several American high schools; the recent publication of high-profile, even best-selling translations by towering figures such as Seamus Heaney (1999) and Tolkien (2014); a steady stream of new comic-book and cinematic permutations, each with some angle or detail stranger than the last; and even an outpouring of popular music celebrating the hero and his monsters.19 This section will analyze in detail the three major board-game adaptations of Beowulf that have been released to date: Reiner Knizia’s Beowulf: The Legend (2005), Knizia and Jeff Tidball’s Beowulf: The Movie Board Game (2007), and King Post’s Beowulf: A Board Game (2015). Several board-game adaptations of novels appear each year, some of which promulgate a secondhand neomedievalist vision of the Middle Ages, in that they are based on neomedievalist works. High-profile examples include: Michael Rieneck and Stefan Stadler’s The Pillars of the Earth (2006), based on the 1989 best-selling historical novel by Ken Follett; Stefan Feld’s The Name of the Rose (2008), based on the Umberto Eco novel; and this latter game’s spiritual precursor, Bruno Faidutti and Serge Laget’s Mystery of the Abbey (1995), arguably a crypto-adaptation of the Eco novel. In spite of the proliferation of such games, even recent work in adaptation theory and game studies has offered little sustained theorizing about the unique nature of board-game adaptation. It is less my intention here to propose any comprehensive theoretical model for understanding board games as adaptations; rather I seek to probe more granularly the ambitions and investments of those games in expressing neomedieval themes and attitudes. But perhaps part of the reason for the relative neglect of analog games in narrative-focused disciplines stems from the relative minimization of narrative elements in so many of them; furthermore, even those board games with a basis in literary texts do not necessarily advertise themselves as adaptations in the same way that the film industry relishes employing the conceit of the adaptation in marketing. As a medium of expression, however, the modern board game demonstrates a tremendous degree of flexibility, with some games of pure abstraction taking mere minutes to play, and others telling vast stories over multiple sessions of many hours spread out over several days. Some in the field of game studies would 19 On

Beowulf in popular music, see T. S. Miller, “A Look at Some New Lays of Beowulf: The Misunderstood Monsters of Contemporary Popular Music,” in The Year’s Work in Medievalism 25 (2010): 75–104.


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argue that examining board-game themes too closely will only lead to dead ends, dismissing the themes used to sell games as so much tinsel and giftwrapping; Markku Eskelinen, for one, referring more specifically to narrative and thematic elements in video games, cautions that “laying any emphasis on studying these kinds of marketing tools is just a waste of time and energy.”20 Nevertheless, the various ways in which the medieval is marketed – and used to market other products – deserve a prominent place in medievalism studies, even if not adaptation studies proper. As such, in what follows I will emphasize the framing and packaging of these neomedieval game products as much as the experience of play itself generated by their rulesets. However we choose to define these games and their precise relationship with their antecedent texts – adaptations? derivatives? – their production speaks to an overlooked corner of neomedievalist cultural production, and the branding of so many games in so short a span with Beowulf’s name in particular merits closer analysis. Characteristically, we will see, even neomedieval adaptations of specific literary texts tend to evoke the medieval intensely only to the extent that players wish to import their own ideas about the Middle Ages and play with them, on top of or beyond the sometimes abstract game-mechanisms. Often, a neomedieval game’s art direction will do more to transport players to the Middle Ages than any other aspect of the design. For instance, the first thing an observer will notice about Beowulf: The Legend is that it boasts lavish artwork by John Howe, who had already achieved some celebrity as a fantasy artist – having contributed card art to Magic: The Gathering and cover art to the high fantasy novels of Robin Hobb – and particularly as an interpreter of Tolkien’s works, such that Peter Jackson brought him on as a conceptual designer for the film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings (2001–03). Howe had also previously worked with Reiner Knizia on the celebrated and groundbreaking cooperative board game The Lord of the Rings (2000), and the pair had, in the eyes of many players, successfully imported an epic fantasy experience to the board-gaming world. Both The Lord of the Rings and Beowulf: The Legend appeared as part of the short-lived “Kosmos 20

See Markku Eskelinen, “The Gaming Situation,” Game Studies 1.1 (2001), , last accessed October 8, 2017. Woods refers to Eskelinen’s foundational essay in game studies and contextualizes the perspective, pointing out that the debate about the extent to which thematic and/or narrative elements matter versus its abstracted game mechanics “mirrors a theoretical clash that emerged within the academic field of game studies in the early 21st century,” namely, the “so-called narratology/ludology debate” (Eurogames, 104). Woods himself attempts to nuance the old binary by drawing additional attention to interpenetration of market economics and player experience: “Although theme might be considered arbitrary in analyzing the behavior of a game system, it is an important element in terms of both marketing and player experience. For a publisher, theme is an important factor in attracting the target audience to purchase a particular title, while for players it can function to draw them into the fictional world of the game and thus enhance the player’s experience” (Eurogames, 109).

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Literature Series” (Literaturspiele), a line of game adaptations produced by the German publishing house Kosmos, the original publisher of Catan. Because of the established Howe-Knizia epic fantasy pedigree, in combination with the fantastical artwork adorning Beowulf: The Legend and the all-around heroic age framing of the game, new players might expect the hack-and-slash simulated combat of a Dungeons & Dragons-style dungeon crawl. Instead, this “Board Game of Epic Heroes,” as the English-language box cover advertises it, belongs squarely to a sizable family of board games known as “bidding games,” in which the primary game mechanism governing player outcomes is the auction rather than any other form of conflict. Moreover, in Germany, Kosmos originally printed the game under the title Beowulf: Der sagenhafte Drachenkämpfer, that is, Beowulf: The Legendary Dragonslayer, further emphasizing martial prowess and the fantasy element of the poem, all against the backdrop of Howe’s flame-wreathed illustration of a scene from the dragon fight, and perhaps raising expectations that a simple bidding game could not hope to meet (based on impressionistic data available on BoardGameGeek, each of the Beowulf games appears to have sold modestly and received a lukewarm reception). From another perspective, however, there should have been nothing surprising about Knizia releasing this kind of more subdued bidding game, as Knizia is one of the most prolific and recognizable game designers in the industry, and known for his generally more abstracted and mathematically driven designs – from which indeed the immersive experience delivered in The Lord of the Rings was something of a departure. Woods warns that Knizia games “commonly appear as abstract exercises with only a circumstantial relationship to the theme proposed by the artwork and background,” an observation borne out in the case of his Beowulf games.21 Gameplay in Beowulf: The Legend proceeds as a mail-clad figurine of Beowulf moves, turn by turn, towards his inevitable death along a linear track winding its way around an unusual L-shaped board. Players assume the roles of unnamed retainers of Beowulf, and compete to become his heir as the advancing figurine marks thirty-six different episodes, or rounds, that thematically represent events adapted from the storyline of the poem. Based on their relative placements in each auction, players will receive tokens representing victory points in the form of treasure and fame, or negative victory points in the form of wounds and misfortunes, and the retainer possessing the largest pile of fame and treasure at the game’s conclusion wins. During the course of the game, players will draw cards of five different suits bearing the very remotely thematic designations of Travelling, Friendship, Wit, Courage, and Fighting. Opportunities will then arise for players to exchange these cards directly for certain rewards, but they will be used more often to bid against other players in auctions that yield even 21 Woods,

Eurogames, 106.


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greater rewards. Certain “Major Episodes” in the life of Beowulf, such as his monster encounters, will require that players assist him by spending cards belonging only to certain suits (e.g., Courage and Fighting to combat the dragon), but the cards that each player decides to commit to the battle remain hidden. Players that contribute a greater number of matching suits will win better rewards after the resolution of the bidding, but they will also lose those cards; therefore, advantage can sometimes be gained over other players in the long run through bluffing about the amount of resources committed and/ or choosing not to expend valuable cards on certain lower-paying episodes. Effectively, the game is highly abstract, and relies on fragments of the poem’s plot mainly as a device to structure a series of auctions with a specified ending point when the Beowulf figure reaches the end of the board, and in terms of its gameplay, the game would not change much with an alteration in its theming. Perhaps the strategic and tactical skill that can allow one player to edge out another in such a bidding game would be recognizable across time to the author of the Exeter Book poem The Fortunes of Men as a God-given gift – “sumum tæfle cræft,/ bleobordes gebregd” [“to one is given skill at tafl,/ cunning at the game board”] (70a–71b) – but otherwise we must conclude that this game finally has very little to do with Anglo-Saxon England beyond Howe’s Tolkienesque fantasies. The distributor of the English-language edition of Beowulf: The Legend, Fantasy Flight Games, published the distinct title Beowulf: The Movie Board Game just three years after the earlier game’s release, meaning that this major board-game company curiously showcases two separate Beowulf adaptations in its catalog. Beowulf: The Movie Board Game rebrands Knizia’s earlier abstract strategy game Kingdoms (1994), which already showcased its own medieval theme, as a tie-in coinciding with the release of Robert Zemeckis’s big-budget Hollywood adaptation of Beowulf (2007), co-written by Neil Gaiman and featuring all the star power of Anthony Hopkins and Angelina Jolie. The existence of a game as bizarre in conception as Beowulf: The Movie Board Game may strike some medievalists as inexplicably odd, but the board-game industry thrives on the resuscitation of old products in new print runs that routinely bear entirely new themes and sometimes also entail adjustments to gameplay and other optimizations. By 2007, concurrently released board-game tie-ins for major motion pictures were also hardly unheard of, and they have only become more prevalent in the decade since. Tie-ins represent opportunities to advertise the film and generate revenue themselves, for both the owner of the licensed rights and the board-game production company, and in this case with minimal effort on the part of Fantasy Flight Games, in that the publisher was able to preserve a previous game’s core design with a Hollywood Anglo-Saxon facelift. It is also important to note that Beowulf: The Movie Board Game participated in a massive multimedia campaign encompassing, among other tie-ins, Ubisoft’s console

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and computer game Beowulf: The Game and a novelization of the film by award-winning science-fiction and fantasy author Caitlín R. Kiernan.22 As with the Kiernan novel (a literary treatment of a screen treatment of a literary text), and as its own unwieldly title indicates, Beowulf: The Movie Board Game represents neomedievalism in the second or third degree. Scholars have begun to comment critically on the much-lampooned film in growing numbers,23 but it is certainly fair to ask what possible relationship this thrice-abstracted game might retain with the original poem, particularly when Knizia’s earlier effort at an adaptation showed such little interest in the poem beyond the skeletal armature of its general plot. Like Beowulf: The Legend, the movie tie-in remains essentially an abstract game, but it diverges from its predecessor by incorporating a larger number of plastic figurines than the single Beowulf figure included in the earlier game, perhaps only because consumers had become accustomed to expecting better and better production values in such big box-games, including the replacement of two-dimensional tokens and chits with three-dimensional figures or miniatures whenever possible. The back cover of the box does not conceal the game’s debt to Kingdoms, although the earlier Knizia title is credited as mere inspiration rather than foundation for Beowulf: The Movie Board Game. In fact, the games do not differ in any fundamental way, despite the exaggerated though not strictly inaccurate claims on the box that the new game “adds all-new powers and boards to represent the thematic elements unique to this epic saga.” The paragraphs continue with an explication of those thematic elements: “In each of three acts, players strive to craft the most gripping story possible. Ultimately, Beowulf: The Movie Board Game tells the tale of Beowulf’s valor and temptation as he faces the enemies of the Kingdom of Heorot. Will you meet the challenge?” This invitation to consumers to play in the storyworld of Beowulf – offering them the ability to “craft” a story of their own – demonstrates one of the main ways that game adaptations, as a kind of ergodic narrative, can differ in radical ways even from film adaptations of literary texts. Recent decades have witnessed the emergence of a substantial trend of highly narrative-driven storytelling board games, many of which resemble ergodic or branching-path “Choose Your Own Adventure” texts in boardgame form, including titles such as Tales of the Arabian Nights (1985, updated 2009), Once Upon a Time: The Storytelling Card Game (1993), Above and 22 On

the Ubisoft game, see Candace Barrington, with Timothy English, “‘Best and Only Bulwark’: How Epic Narrative Redeems Beowulf: The Game,” in Digital Gaming Re-imagines the Middle Ages, ed. Daniel Kline (New York: Routledge, 2013), 31–42. 23 For useful perspectives on the film from the point of view of adaptation theory, see Kathleen Forni, “Popularizing High Culture: Zemeckis’s Beowulf,” Studies in Popular Culture 31.2 (2009): 45–59, and, more recently, Alison Gulley, “‘What We Need is a Hero’: Beowulf in a Post-9/11 World,” Journal of Popular Culture 47.4 (2014): 800–16.


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Below (2015), and Storytelling (2015). In the case of Beowulf: The Movie Board Game, simply from reading the box covers, or, for that matter, the first page of the rulebook, a prospective player would be unable to ascertain that Knizia’s design in fact has nothing to do with this genre of game: “[E]ach player strives to tell the most epic version of the Beowulf saga. To this end, each player takes control of Beowulf himself, guiding the hero and his companions to recount the chronicle in the most exciting way possible.” In actuality, what Beowulf: The Movie Board Game offers is decidedly not a storytelling experience of any kind, but an abstract tile-placement game in which earned points crudely represent stories: “Players score saga points by placing their figures in rows and columns that contain boons, while avoiding rows and columns cursed by perils.” During the game, players take turns drawing and placing tiles – Valor, Treasure, Temptation, Mead, Drunkenness, Good Counsel, Treachery, and more – that will cause each column and row to score positively or negatively according to various outcomes of relative positioning, attempting to maneuver their own pieces into favorable scoring positions and reduce opponents’ final scores. Yet the only story told during the course of the game amounts to the total numbers of saga points accumulated by each player, and it turns out that the player who has recounted the “most exciting” story is simply the one who has arithmetically outmaneuvered their opponents on the matrix of the game board. Even the principal innovation on Kingdoms that Beowulf: The Movie Game offers remains more variation than true innovation, for the games are played in much the same way, apart from the need for different tactics to do well on a changing battlefield. The first board takes the form of a simple 5×5 grid of squares, similar to the 5×6 grid of the original Kingdoms. “Act II” of the game, however, is played on a 6×6 grid with some of its squares eliminated or blocked to generate different positional dynamics. The third board disperses the squares into an irregular elongated pattern with columns and rows of varying sizes that intersect with one another in more complex ways. A complete game consists of three rounds, one played on each board, and this three-act structure to Beowulf: The Movie Board Game might appear to reflect a particular understanding of the poem’s structure as defined by the monster battles.24 Yet here is another borrowing from Kingdoms, in which gameplay continues for three “epochs,” and the level of abstraction separating each act of the Beowulf game from the corresponding movement in the poem exceeds even the level of abstraction in the “Major Episode” auctions in Beowulf: The Legend. Perhaps what most unites Knizia’s Beowulf games as 24

Generations of scholars have debated how best to schematize the narrative action of Beowulf. For an overview of various approaches to the structure of the poem, see Andy Orchard’s chapter on “Style and Structure” in his Critical Companion to Beowulf (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2003), 57–97.

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adaptations of the poem is not how abstracted the play mechanisms of both are from the world of the poem, but rather the degree to which they both deploy a similar visual and verbal rhetoric to mislead potential players into expecting a role-playing experience more akin to the participatory pleasures permitted by the Ubisoft video game, in which, as Beowulf, a player battles monster after monster. I would argue that the advertising copy and framing surrounding Knizia’s Beowulf adaptations tap into other and more extensive neomedievalist traditions in digital games and tabletop RPGs in a deceptive fashion, reliant on manipulating audience expectations of what a neomedieval experience should deliver. In other words, those plastic figurines of thanes, longships, and mead halls are, finally, simply counters or chits used to facilitate accounting and scorekeeping. In their Kickstarter project Beowulf: A Board Game, the group of collaborators working under the company name “King Post” takes the Anglo-Saxon world somewhat more seriously than Knizia’s two designs seem to. Of course, Beowulf itself has a reputation as a joyless poem, and perhaps half-deservedly so, as laughter is rare and its humor is so wry that it can sometimes require a little explication de texte to locate it for the modern reader.25 Even in the special space of the mead hall – echoing with the “dream” [“gladness, festivity”] (88b) that vexes Grendel and where we hear “hæleþa hleahtor” [“the laughter of heroes”] (611a) – joy can quickly turn to sorrow, as when Hrothgar reports the unexpected death of Æschere at the hands of Grendel’s mother with the shattering half-line “sorh is geniwod” [“sorrow is renewed”] (1322b).26 Even the “Healgamen” (1066a) or “hall-amusement” that Hrothgar’s scop sings after Beowulf’s triumph over Grendel turns out to be an accounting of the Finnsburgh episode, a foreboding, admonitory tale of a kin-slaying; intriguingly, on both ends the word “gamen” brackets the episode, its conclusion punctuated by the half-line “Gamen eft astah” [“Amusement rose up once again”] (1160b), as if it had in fact been the supposed “healgamen” itself that dispelled all sense of game and joy. Wiglaf’s messenger, too, describes Beowulf’s death to the surviving Geats using the language of game and play but framed in a devastating litotes, explaining that no maiden will take pleasure in the dragon’s treasure, “nu se herewisa hleahtor alegde,/ gamen ond gleodream” [“now that our army-leader has laid aside laughter,/ play and amusement”] (3020–21a). These lines are immediately followed by an apocalyptic vision of carrion birds wheeling over an impending battle and 25

Jonathan Wilcox has indeed produced an entire edited collection titled Humour in AngloSaxon Literature (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2000), but – not to be too jejune – one cannot help but note the slimness of the volume at less than 200 pages, especially taking into account that it covers the entire corpus. 26 All quotations from the poem are taken from Klaeber’s Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg, ed. R. D. Fulk, Robert E. Bjork, and John D. Niles, 4th edn. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008), and, except where indicated otherwise, all translations are my own.


Studies in Medievalism

boasting to one another, and there the speech concludes: “game,” when it appears in Beowulf, seems only a temporary refuge from the poem’s physical and existential threats, which Tolkien famously summarized as thematizing “man at war with the hostile world, and his inevitable overthrow in Time.”27 King Post certainly strove for doom and gloom in their previous high literary adaptation, Moby Dick, Or, The Card Game, in which players futilely compete to amass oil on a whaling expedition – until a final encounter with the White Whale himself, who irresistibly kills the players’ characters one by one to determine the final survivor and “victor” of the game. The rulebook also includes a variant on the game called “Melville Mode,” foreclosing some of the open-endedness in the narrative that the random decks of cards permit, and instead offering players “an adventure that hews more closely to the original voyage of the Pequod” (9). For their Beowulf strategy game, the makers have chosen a stark box-design, with the cover featuring a black-andwhite drawing of a ship and the word “Beowulf” written in a version of a runic script. The back cover invites players to “build your kingdom, raid your neighbors, and secure your legend in the world of Beowulf,” and the qualification in the phrase “the world of Beowulf” is revealing: unlike the Moby Dick card game, Beowulf: A Board Game relies for its gameplay upon a considerable expansion of the adapted text. The rulebook candidly admits that the game uses the poem “as a point of entry into a vast interpretation of the Viking Age,” and text on the box explains that the narrative of Beowulf’s life represents a structuring device more than the focus of the gameplay: “As the legend of Beowulf’s life and death unfolds on the game’s board, players will trade, scheme, and raid one another to grow their own kingdom’s influence and power.” Players take on the roles of different tribal leaders, and the objective of the game is to accumulate the most glory by slaying the most monsters, a rather literal interpretation and representation of a Germanic heroic ethos. In support of this reading of the supposed Northern heroic code, the cover of the rulebook introduces players to “the world of Beowulf” via Francis B. Gummere’s 1910 – and therefore now public domain – translation of a choice soundbite from the poem, Beowulf’s words to Hrothgar before departing to seek out Grendel’s mother: “So win who may glory ere death! When his days are told, that is the warrior’s worthiest doom” (1910); the original lines read, “wyrce se þe mote/ domes ær deaþe; þæt biðdrihtguman/ unlifgendum æfter selest” (1387b–89). The game itself plays very similarly to other games influenced by the dynamics of a combat-driven tabletop role-playing game, and comes with dice of four, six, and ten sides. According to a card drawn from the “Wyrd deck” each turn (which also brings randomized events that 27

J. R. R. Tolkien, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” [1936], in Beowulf: A Verse Translation, trans. Seamus Heaney and ed. Daniel Donoghue (New York: Norton, 2002), 103–30 (115).

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may harm players), a token representing Beowulf moves on a track depicted on the game board – a conceit that resembles if not consciously mimics the central board-mechanic in Beowulf: The Legend. Similarly to the board in the previous game, some spaces on the track in Beowulf: A Board Game correspond to major events in the poem, events that come with consequences that may help or hinder the progression of certain players, including, for example, “Grendel harries the Danes, who now roll a D4 in defense,” and this highly suggestive final one: “Beowulf’s funeral pyre burns brightly. Christianity comes to the North and siphons Kinsmen from all players.” This version of Beowulf aims to simulate players vying for lasting glory in a now-lost pagan age – as the rulebook puts it, “players scramble to preserve the brave legacies of their kingdoms in the face of a quickly changing religious landscape and the relentless tides of history” (1) – a vision of the poet’s intentions that most contemporary scholars would challenge. Such, however, is the license granted by the imperative of play and the decision of the game designers to unmoor themselves from a narrower adaptation of the text. On at least one point – namely, the poem’s aforementioned pessimism about the future of the Geats – Beowulf: A Board Game remains far more faithful to the spirit (and indeed the text) of the poem than does an adaptation such as Beowulf: The Legend, in which the winning player succeeds Beowulf as king with no mention of the dark Swedish cloud hanging over the future. Finally, neither of Knizia’s adaptations include enough Beowulf, as it were, to offer a gloss on the poem at all; the King Post version represents a creative – even if erroneous from a scholarly perspective – interpretation of the poem and its place in literary and social history. For a board game of its scale, expense, and production values, Beowulf: A Board Game has reached a quite limited audience, even compared to that achieved by the other two Beowulf games, never bestsellers themselves but at least distributed by major publishers, for while the project did successfully fund on Kickstarter, it received backing from only 765 individual supporters. Even so, we should keep in mind that the Dark Age or “Northern”/Viking setting that King Post evoke in their version of the poem has proved an enormously popular one in hobby board gaming, such that today Viking games effectively constitute a discrete subgenre. By my rough count, at least one hundred such games and expansions have already been published, and they have achieved particular success in recent years, with several new titles released every year since 2014. Although, as we will later see, Arthurian themes have also remained consistently popular among board gamers for decades, Viking settings now appear to outnumber Arthurian ones; some games even combine the two when depicting a Dark Age Arthur. All three of these Beowulf adaptations, then, should be understood against the background of this larger interest in Dark Age heroics, and, more cynically, possibly as an attempt to cash in on it. In other words, scholars interested in


Studies in Medievalism

game adaptations of literary texts must consider artifacts such as a series of twenty-first-century board-game versions of Beowulf not only as derivatives of the poem, but also within a far wider context of neomedieval practice and neomedieval play. Neither the players buying nor the publishers selling such games may much care how strongly the experience promised by the game is equal to or evokes the experience of reading an old poem, but both seek to summon up a particular vision of the stirring heroism of warriors battling in the Dark Ages, a Dark Ages in which a denizen of the twenty-first century may play at martial hero. By contrast, the next pair of games that I will consider imagine and market a very different Middle Ages, a world of mirth and laughter and bawdry far from the more serious play packaged in any box bearing the name of Beowulf. “Ful ofte in game a sooth I have herd seye”: On the Road and on the Table with Chaucer The two modern board games inspired by Chaucer share with one another, and with a great many neomedievalist responses to and adaptations of the poet’s works, a connection of Chaucer and vice. Chaucer has long been regarded a canonical author who permits indulgence, through his approved bawdiness, in taboo violation as a form of play, whether this means a dirty ditty or two snuck into the Neville Coghill musical version of the Tales (1964), or a bare ass hanging out a window on the wall of the Tate Gallery in a Miller’s Tale print by Dame Elisabeth Frink (1970). Chaucer tends to inspire an idiosyncratic kind of reverent irreverence in modern responses to his works, from the libertine escapades of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1972 film I racconti di Canterbury to the unselfconscious anachronisms of Brian Helgeland’s 2001 movie A Knight’s Tale. Both films, I think, further freeassociate from the longstanding association of Chaucer and a neomedievalist conception of vice to cement a more specific connection between the poet and gambling, as, for example, Helgeland infamously depicts Chaucer as a naked vagabond who has gambled away his clothing and remains in deep debt to the Summoner and Pardoner.28 Counterintuitively, both of the Chaucerian board games that have been published to date draw their inspiration from the Pardoner, the pilgrim who in his prologue and tale most strongly disapproves of play, while, of course, referencing tabletop games the most frequently in 28

Helgeland’s spectacle has stimulated considerable scholarly activity. See, among others, George Edmonson, “Naked Chaucer,” in The Post-Historical Middle Ages, ed. Elizabeth Scala and Sylvia Federico (New York: Palgrave, 2009), 139–60, and Siân Echard, “The Naked Truth: Chaucerian Spectacle in Brian Helgeland’s A Knight’s Tale,” in Chaucer on Screen: Absence, Presence, and Adapting the Canterbury Tales, ed. Kathleen Coyne Kelly and Tison Pugh (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2016), 167–83.

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the Tales. Both contemporary games seek to reclaim a “riotous Chaucer” from the moral condemnations of the Pardoner, much as Pasolini’s rewriting of Chaucer’s Retraction at the conclusion of his film seeks to liberate the poet from any moral framework limiting artistic expression: “Here end the Canterbury Tales, told only for the pleasure of telling them.”29 Pasolini puts the Pardoner’s Tale at the center of his film, and indeed the figure of the Pardoner has become a site of play of all kinds in his character’s particularly robust reception history. In different ways but audaciously overtly, both Canterbury Tales games invite players to tangle with the Pardoner and play in a space of medieval sin. In 1995, the same year that Catan’s release and subsequent international celebrity would mark a paradigm shift in the board-game industry and modern board gaming culture, another neomedieval game was published in Europe to more modest success, Oxford Games Ltd.’s Hazard: From the Canterbury Tales. Although contemporaneous with Catan and arguably a comparable kind of boutique production in conception, from our retrospective viewpoint Hazard nevertheless speaks to a very different idea of what board gaming was and could be, not simply looking back to the fourteenth century for its inspiration and its marketing rhetoric, but also to the dominant twentiethcentury formulae of the mass-market family-style games put out by Milton Bradley or Parker Brothers. From one perspective, Hazard is simply a more elaborate form of a “roll-and-move” game, in which players’ pawns move a number of spaces across a board corresponding to the roll of a die or dice – a mechanism that exploded in popularity in board gaming through the success of blockbuster titles employing it such as Monopoly and The Game of Life, but is assiduously eschewed by most eurogames and other contemporary hobby games. In Hazard, how far player pieces move towards the goal depends on a more involved system of wagering and rolling. What is more remarkable about Hazard is that it belongs to the catalog of games created by a rare collaboration of two female game-makers – lead designer Leslie Scott, who is the creator of Jenga, and artist Sara Finch – who produced the game for the retailer Past Times, which specialized in toys and gifts of an antiquarian feel. Scott reflects on her experience working on board-game commissions for institutions such as the Bodleian, the Ashmolean, the British Museum, and the Royal Shakespeare Company, and explains the origins of Hazard as an effort to ride a wave of Chaucerian fervor: John Beal, the founder of Past Times, who always had his inimitable finger on the pulse of upcoming trends, he mentioned that he thought The Canterbury Tales would be the up-to-the-minute historical topic 29

I racconti di Canterbury, directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini (United Artists, 1972).


Studies in Medievalism

in the coming year. Canterbury, the city, was about to open its latest tourist attraction, The Canterbury Tales Experience.30 Yet Hazard represents much more than an attempt to market a defunct game with Chaucer’s ostensibly saleable name, for Scott and Finch take care to delve into Chaucer’s world far more profoundly than Knizia does Beowulf’s, and dedicate more than half of the rulebook to long summaries of Chaucer’s Tales. Cards depicting the pilgrims expose players to some lines of Middle English, and choice Chaucerian illuminations adapted from genuine medieval manuscripts decorate both box and game board (British Library MS Royal 18 D II and the Ellesmere MS, respectively). If we might feel tempted to quibble that the box cover itself depicts Lydgate in the Siege of Thebes prologue substituting himself as pilgrim-narrator in place of Chaucer, we should recall that this decision only parallels graphic-design decisions made by some of Chaucer’s own editors. The front box cover of Hazard advertises it as “A family game of skill and fortune for 2–6 players,” a game that can be enjoyed by adults and children “Ages 7+”: the designers of Hazard clearly envisioned the game as competing in a field against simple games for all ages such as Milton Bradley’s Yahtzee or Life, typically marketed as for Ages 8+. By contrast, the twenty-first-century hobby games based on Beowulf discussed in the preceding section target adults and older youths, indicating their appropriateness for Ages 12+, 10+, and 14+ respectively, according to the order of their release. The medieval world had no such rating system, but we can say with confidence that a “family game” is certainly not how Chaucer would have described the ancient game of “hasard,” a precursor of modern craps. The reverse of the modern box introduces players to the game with a statement of indubitable veracity: “In Chaucer’s medieval masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales, there are several references to the dice game Hasard, which was extremely popular at that time.” Yet, a quick consultation of any reliable Chaucer concordance will reveal that the only two tales to mention directly the words “hasard,” “hasadrye,” or “hasardours” belong to the Pardoner and the Parson, and there invariably within the context of scathing moral condemnation. In the Pardoner’s sermonizing fable warning of the bad end that comes to a group of “yonge folk that haunteden folye,/ As riot, hasard, stywes, and tavernes” (VI.464–5), the bulk of the other references to the game of hasard appear in a forty-line homiletic digression on the evils of 30

Leslie Scott, About Jenga: The Remarkable Business of Creating a Game that Became a Household Name (Austin, TX: Green Leaf Book Group Press, 2010), 79. Jenga has become one of the bestselling games in the world, but none of Scott’s other designs has achieved the merest fraction of such popularity; of particular medievalist interest are Tabula (1990), Cloister Games (1992), Ludus Romanus (1996), and The Celtic Game (1997).

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dicing, beginning with a rhyming couplet linking the contiguous sins of “glotonye” and “hasardyre”: And now that I have spoken of glotonye, Now wol I yow deffenden hasardrye. Hasard is verray mooder of lesynges, And of deceite, and cursed forswerynges, Blaspheme of Crist, manslaughtre, and wast also Of catel and of tyme; and forthermo, It is repreeve and contrarie of honour For to ben holde a commune hasardour. (VI.589–96)31 The passage continues on with the admonition that “And ever the hyer he is of estaat,/ The moore is he yholden desolaat” (VI.597–8), and then relates an exemplum illustrating how hasadrye has proved the downfall of princes’ reputations, concluding, “Lordes may fynden oother maner pley/ Honest ynough to dryve the day awey” (VI.627–8). Despite the effective imprimatur additionally given to dice games in Alfonso’s Book, Chaucer’s own higherclass narrators refer only to “playe either at ches or tables” [backgammon] as the more appropriate pastimes for the respectable (Book of the Duchess, 51). We need look no farther than literary evidence to understand that hasard was indeed a popular recreation for different social classes, but the Pardoner’s bombastic moralizing may not much exaggerate pious indictments of dice games in fourteenth-century England. Chaucer’s dour yet saintly Parson certainly concurs – impugning “thise cursede hasardours in diverse contrees” who “despiseth God and alle his halwes” (X.5880B) – and he even rejects backgammon, presumably because of its own aleatory element: “Now comth hasardrie with his apurtenaunces, as tables and rafles, of which comth deceite, false othes, chidynges, and alle ravynes./ Certes, hasardours ne mowe nat been withouten greet synne whiles they haunte that craft” (X.793–4).32 Moreover, in addition to the various negative associations attached to gambling and, by metonymic association, dice, a pair of dice regularly joined the collection of artifacts known as the Arma Christi, or Instruments of the Passion, and perhaps most commonly appear illustrated in medieval manuscripts in scenes depicting the Roman soldiers gambling for Christ’s robe.33 31

Quotations from Chaucer derive from The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson et al., 3rd edn. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987). 32 The final page of the rulebook excerpts a few lines from the Pardoner’s Tale, circumspectly noting only that in the tale “the popularity of gambling is addressed,” and then adds two passages that metaphorically allude to throws in hasard (II.122–6 and VII.2661–2). 33 For a few easily accessible examples, see: the crucifixion miniature in the Queen Mary Psalter, British Library MS Royal 2 B VII, fol. 256v; a similar, later scene in British Library MS Yates Thompson 5, fol. 40; and the robe and dice appearing together in British Library MS Harley 3828, fol. 65v.


Studies in Medievalism

But how can Scott frame such a game as one authorized by the Chaucerian text, or even as an appealing one? The grim tale concludes with an account of mutual homicide on the part of the dicers, to which the Pardoner appends the gloss of a Ciceronian exclamation, “O glotonye, luxurie, and hasardrye!” (VI.897). “Luxurie,” of course, represents the Middle English word for the member of the Seven Deadly Sins that we identify as “lust” today, and we will notice that “hasadrye” had previously appeared directly adjacent to the word “stywes,” that is, brothels (VI.465). Of course, there is nothing about Hazard: From the Canterbury Tales that suggests sexual licentiousness, and, as we might expect, the designers of Hazard do not tie themselves so closely to the fourteenth-century text and context in which they claim the origin of their game that they market it as “verray mooder of lesynges” or “wast also/ Of catel and of tyme.” At the same time, I would argue that a frisson of naughtiness, a whiff of scandal, is precisely what Hazard, as a modern board game, hopes to offer players not living in the Middle Ages. The back cover of the game salaciously observes that Chaucer’s pilgrims would have gambled with real money, but safely sanitizes the gambling in a family game in which all stakes remain firmly within the play space, translated into movement on a board towards victory. Just as a game like Beowulf: A Board Game allows players to enjoy raiding and pillaging sequestered in the play space of a distant, irrevocably lost past, the remoteness of the Middle Ages means that Hazard can permit players to play craps with the children. Although the rules of medieval hasard and Hazard share some similarities, the pleasures of the game and the general nature of the experience have altered wholly according to radically different contexts for their play. Perhaps designers and players of Chaucerian board games might feel a special affinity with the Pardoner’s Tale because the consistent way in which the Pardoner classifies the three youths as “rioters” or “hasardours” may suggest that they belong to the nearest medieval analog of the modern selfcreated identity category “gamer.” Chaucer’s Pardoner again provides the driving inspiration behind The Road to Canterbury, a game by Alf Seegert, an English professor who had been designing games for about a decade before The Road to Canterbury was funded on Kickstarter with 492 backers. Although Seegert amassed fewer backers than the purely amateur production Beowulf: A Board Game, he had also already secured the collaboration of a professional game-publisher of modest size, Gryphon Games. The original Kickstarter page solicits potential benefactors to help “launch the sin-filled delightful game,” and the rulebook explains the premise of this game in which players take on the role of corrupt pardoners and the Seven Deadly Sins “present a wonderful business opportunity”: To keep your services in demand, you will actually need to lead these Pilgrims into temptation yourself! Perhaps some phony relics might

 Neomedievalism in Modern Board-Gaming Culture  173 help? […] So much to forgive, so little time. Will you be able to outwit your opponents by pardoning more of these Pilgrims’ sins before they die or finish their pilgrimage to Canterbury? (1).

Rather than attempt to perform Chaucer’s literary pilgrimage in every game in the way that two of the Beowulf board games parrot Beowulf’s journey through the Anglo-Saxon poem, here players are instead asked to assume a literally yet lightheartedly parasitic role vis-à-vis Chaucer’s text, preying on his characters for selfish gain and victory in the playfully sinning space of the game. Like Finch in designing Hazard, Seegert borrows from the Ellesmere MS and Royal 18 D II for inexpensive but “authentic” artwork, and also from Hieronymus Bosch. Unlike the fusion of traditional and modern massmarket game mechanics that defines Hazard, The Road to Canterbury adopts several mechanics from hobby eurogames as players draft, collect, and play cards to gain influence and ultimately points by interacting with the pilgrims on the board. Also notable is the humorous tone evident throughout the rulebook and the bitingly ironic design of the game itself: “Radix bonorum est cupiditas,” a banner reads in Gothic lettering, inverting the great moral theme on which the Pardoner preaches to reclaim the figure as one of Chaucerian fun. If the Beowulf games do not engage more extensively with the poem than a superficial relation of its plot as a series of battles to be won and points earned, both Chaucer games tap into players’ desires to play with the Middle Ages in a more complex fashion, inviting players to manipulate and respond to the medieval rather than slavishly follow an antecedent text. Perhaps most illustrative is Seegert’s tongue-in-cheek direction in the rulebook that the starting player should be selected on the basis of “who can cackle the most like a vile and greedy medieval pardoner” as the extent to which a player wishes to play in character will change the neomedieval experience of the game. Several board games include a similar sort of whimsical method for determining the first player, which of course different groups of players will adopt enthusiastically or disregard entirely as they choose. For one, Medieval Academy, a vaguely Arthurian, family-style drafting game – and one bearing a title that obligates any American medievalist writing on neomedievalism in games to mention it at some point – includes a comparable method for determining the starting player: “The player who strikes the most chivalrous pose takes Excalibur and is the first player” (3). The range and diversity of neomedieval board games, from the silliest to the most ponderous simulations and wargames, show that such games offer innumerable ways to play in the Middle Ages.


Studies in Medievalism

“[H]owsomever the game goth, there was treson amonge us”: Some Conclusions and an Invitation to Further Work on Arthuriana and Other Neomedieval Board Games Several dimensions of medievalism in contemporary board gaming that this overview has barely been able to explore remain, and I invite further work on an even vaster territory of neomedievalist gaming than that sketched here. For example, I have entirely bracketed fantastic neomedievalism in board games, as well as such games as Milton Bradley’s Weapons & Warriors (1993) and the earlier Crossbows and Catapults (1983), three-dimensional castle siege simulations that blur the line between structured games and freer-form medieval toys such as Lego sets. Finally, implementations of Robin Hood and Arthurian legends showcase a particularly prominent place in board-game medievalism, and I will therefore conclude with a brief discussion of the Arthurian game that epitomizes the translation of this medieval narrative corpus to board gaming. Although the medievally themed industry powerhouses Catan, Carcassonne, and Dominion continue to outsell the Arthurian game Shadows Over Camelot, the latter likely represents the most popular and influential board game with medieval theming that runs deeper than easily fungible artwork. In this early cooperative game, players take on the role of knights protecting a besieged Camelot, accomplished by means of a game mechanic that amounts to collecting numbered cards to form poker hands, which can then be expended to complete “quests” that advance the players. Ultimately, however, it is a game more about one’s poker face than one’s poker hand, and more literally encourages players to play roles, not simply for the sake of enjoying the role-play itself, but as a fundamental game mechanic. Shadows Over Camelot infamously allows one of the players to be assigned to act as a hidden traitor with the goal of secretly sabotaging the efforts of the “good” knights. The game thus forces performance as the other players attempt to root out the traitor and/or “beat the clock” to win the game. Knizia’s abstract games may not transport a player to the world of Beowulf, but the social dynamics forced by Shadows Over Camelot will bring to the table at least the kind of accusations false and true that dog the later acts of Malory’s Morte. And that, finally, is what we might conclude about board-game medievalism more generally: board-game medievalism is fundamentally a social medievalism, as dependent on what the players of such games bring to share with one another at the table as it may be on a given game’s graphic design, narrative material, or game mechanics. I do not doubt that, for this reason, several of the most popular of the more strongly medieval-themed board games – Shadows Over Camelot, The Resistance: Avalon, and Sheriff of Nottingham – permit but do not require a light role-playing component, creating a space for optional improvisational performances on top

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of the game mechanics.34 Beyond the playing of roles required by the game mechanics, players may also role-play as deeply or shallowly in character as a Knight of the Round Table or the Sheriff of Nottingham as one might wish, perhaps reciting lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail or Robin Hood: Men in Tights.35 Such games, I argue, bring out the play-element of medievalism itself, for, as the scholar Johan Huizinga might have put it, board games transport players to the Middle Ages for a delimited session of potentially variegated play with the medieval.36 As cultural artifacts that, by their dynamic and ergodic nature, remix and reconfigure medieval imagery and medieval narratives anew in every unique play-experience that they generate, board games lend some structure to neomedievalist play, but also always allow for new kinds of encounters with an imagined Middle Ages.


Daisy Black and James Howard organized a session at the 2015 International Medieval Congress, in Leeds, on “Gaming the Medieval” that included several contributions covering Arthuriana and roleplay in board gaming, including Shadows and Avalon. 35 The best expression of participatory culture in neomedieval board gaming may be the popular Monty Python reskinning that a fan of Shadows Over Camelot has released, known as Shadows Over Spamalot. 36 See Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-element in Culture [1944], trans. R. F. C. Hull (London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980), and also Veronica Ortenberg West-Harling’s essay, “Medievalism as Fun and Games,” in Studies in Medievalism XVIII: Defining Medievalism(s) II, ed. Karl Fugelso (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2009), 1–16, which understands the neomedievalist impulse itself as tied to “Fun and Games.”

Vincent van Gogh, the Tre Corone, and the Studio of the South Aida Audeh The Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) described his painting Portrait of Eugène Boch (Fig. 1) as the expression of his ideal Artist/Poet: “this young man with the Dante-like face” (September 3, 1888, Letter 673).1 Recent scholarship confirms the place of the Dante-inspired Portrait of Boch within Vincent’s plans for the Studio of the South: when it was clear to Vincent that his plans would not come to fruition, when his dreams for founding this utopian artist community had died, the Portrait of Boch no longer had a place in his bedroom.2 The Dante-like Artist/Poet represented by the Portrait of Boch was to be joined, in Vincent’s utopian community, by the modern-day equivalents of Dante’s compatriots Petrarch and Boccaccio, hence completing the triumvirate commonly known then, as now, as the Tre Corone.3 But in October 1888, when he lived in that bedroom and 1

All Van Gogh correspondence quoted in this essay is to be found at , where they have been thoroughly catalogued, translated into English from the original language in which Vincent wrote them, and annotated by scholars at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. The Van Gogh Museum notes that Vincent’s letters often contain minor errors in spelling and grammar. These are corrected in the English translations provided and quoted in this essay. “Tu le verras sous peu ce jeune homme à mine Dantesque […]. 2 Aida Audeh, “Vincent van Gogh, Dante, and the Studio of the South,” Studies in Medievalism XXVII: Authenticity, Medievalism, Music, ed. Karl Fugelso (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2018), 123–50. 3 Perhaps the most prolific period of his life as an artist, source of many of his best-known works, site of his ill-fated collaboration with Paul Gauguin and the infamous episode of self-mutilation, Vincent’s Studio of the South has been the subject of several studies and exhibitions. Most important is Van Gogh’s Bedrooms, ed. Gloria Groom (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016), published in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name organized by the Art Institute of Chicago with assistance from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Also important and useful are Studies in Medievalism XXIX, 2019


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Fig. 1: Vincent van Gogh (1853–90), Portrait of Eugène Boch (1855–1941), 1888 (oil on canvas), Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France (photo: Bridgeman Images).

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Fig. 2: Vincent van Gogh, The Bedroom, 1888 (oil on canvas), Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (photo: Bridgeman Images).

first painted it (Fig. 2), the Portrait of Boch in place above Vincent’s bed, the Artist/Poet was central to his plans for the Studio of the South and a significant element of the larger décoration he planned for the Yellow House Douglas W. Druick and Peter Kort Zegers, Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2001); Ronald Pickvance, Van Gogh in Arles (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1984); Eliza Rathbone et al., Van Gogh Repetitions (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013); and Van Gogh in Perspective, ed. Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1974). There is also an excellent series of essays by Evert van Uitert in Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art published between 1978 and 1982. Also fascinating is Bernadette Murphy, Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016). Vincent’s tre corone would be Vincent, Gauguin, and, Vincent hoped, Émile Bernard. For discussion of the possible origins of the term Tre Corone see Martin Eisner, Boccaccio and the Invention of Italian Literature: Dante, Petrarch, Cavalcanti, and the Authority of the Vernacular (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). For discussion of the meaning of the laurel crown see Sara Sturm-Maddox, “Dante, Petrarch, and the Laurel Crown,” Petrarch & Dante: AntiDantism, Metaphysics, Tradition, ed. Zygmunt Baranski and Theodore J. Cachey (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 2009), 290–319.


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as its home.4 When taken in the context of his references to Petrarch and Boccaccio, which start appearing in his letters in relation to his Studio of the South in September 1888, the Artist/Poet modeled on Dante – as symbol of those rare persons worthy of authority and emulation – becomes the Auctoritas who is ever-present inspiration and master and, what Van Gogh did not anticipate, also a subject of unresolved contention.5 Thus, what Vincent did not seem to realize, and, sadly, what occurred in Arles upon the arrival of Gauguin, is that, contrary to the mythic Tre Corone of the nineteenth century, the actual relationship among the Italian poets was anything but the harmonious and mutually supportive collaboration Vincent intended for his Studio of the South. Unwittingly, in those fateful few months of partnership in Arles, Vincent recreated with Gauguin the actual jealousies, rivalries, and tensions of the Tre Corone. These conflicts with Gauguin, and the resulting failure to realize his utopian Tre Coroneinspired artistic collaboration, precipitated Van Gogh’s mental breakdown in December 1888 and subsequent confinement in asylums at Saint-Rémy and, finally, Auvers-sur-Oise, where he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1890. And while the Portrait of Eugène Boch and The Bedroom have recently been analyzed by this author with regard to larger contextual meaning brought by Dante’s reception in nineteenth-century France, other paintings originating from Vincent’s Studio of the South endeavor – the Poet’s Garden series most importantly and the utopian artists’ community it embodied – also require examination in relation to Vincent’s conception of the Tre Corone within the context of the layered meanings brought by their historical origins, their larger nineteenth-century reception, and Vincent’s propensity to synthesize information in original ways. 4

Substantial research has been done on Vincent’s décoration for the Yellow House – his cohesive plan to furnish the house for himself and Gauguin using mostly paired paintings in his and Gauguin’s bedrooms. See Roland Dorn, “Vincent van Gogh’s Concept of ‘Décoration’,” Vincent van Gogh: International Symposium (Tokyo: The Tokyo Shimbun, 1988). See also Roland Dorn, Décoration: Vincent van Goghs Werkreihe für das Gelbe Haus in Arles (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1990). Vincent’s letter to Theo of May 2, 1889 (Letter 767) makes clear that he had dismantled the décoration by that point, as well as crated and shipped off to his brother most of the paintings that had been in his and Gauguin’s bedrooms in the Yellow House, including the Portrait of Boch and at least two of the Poet’s Garden paintings. 5 “Auctoritas” refers to the idea of authority, “to hold cultural, intellectual, artistic, and moral sway over the present [and to] serve as a model for others to imitate in the future.” Dante from the fourteenth century onwards held this role in Italian literary tradition. For further discussion of this dynamic, see Zygmunt G. Baranski, “‘Honor the loftiest poet’: Dante’s reception in fourteenth-century Italy,” in Italy’s Three Crowns: Reading Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, ed. Zygmunt G. Baranski and Martin McLaughlin (Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2007), 9–22.

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Vincent, Gauguin, and Petrarch Vincent had first encountered his eventual housemate, Paul Gauguin, while living in Paris where he met fellow artists through his studies in the studio of Fernand Cormon and through his brother Theo’s involvement with the Parisian art world.6 Vincent and Gauguin were not particularly fast or close friends at that time, but over years their paths converged such that discussions about an artistic partnership of sorts began in earnest in spring and summer 1888. By that time Gauguin was with fellow painter Émile Bernard (1868–1941) in Pont-Aven and Vincent had moved to Arles with the idea of founding his Studio of the South in order for Gauguin, Bernard, and/or others artists from the north to join him there as a “stopping off point” on their way even further south for additional art studies.7 Several letters between Vincent and Theo between June 1888 and September 1888, as plans for Gauguin’s journey from Pont-Aven to Arles were forming, attest to the difficulties in arranging this partnership. Most of the correspondence in this regard concerns the probable obstacles (his health, his lack of money, his family further north, etc.) to Gauguin’s departure from Pont-Aven.8 At certain points Vincent urges Theo not to push Gauguin further, insisting that he would be happy to have another artist visit in Arles or to remain alone and continue working on his art in solitude.9 The persistence with which the Van Gogh brothers discussed the topic reveals overall that Vincent was indeed continually hopeful that Gauguin should join him, despite his frustration at Gauguin’s reluctance to commit to a specific date. Finally, seemingly in desperation, Vincent addressed Gauguin directly in a long letter of October 3, 1888 (Letter 695), in which Gauguin’s role in Vincent’s plans for the Studio of the South is made explicit. Vincent’s letter is worth quoting and analyzing at length for the myriad associations therein 6

For discussion of Vincent’s time in Paris and his relationships with artists there, including Gauguin and Bernard, see Vincent van Gogh and the Painters of the Petit Boulevard, ed. Cornelia Homburg (Saint Louis, MO: Saint Louis Art Museum, and Frankfurt: Städelsches Kunstinstitut, 2001). 7 In a letter to Theo of October 29, 1888 (Letter 715), Vincent wrote: “I dare hope that in 6 months’ time Gauguin, you and I, we’ll see that we’ve founded a little studio that will last and that will continue to be an essential stopping-off point or station, useful at least to all those who’ll wish to see the south.” 8 See, for example, Vincent’s letters to Theo of September 26, 1888 (Letter 689) and October 10/11, 1888 (Letter 701). Both letters express Vincent’s frustration with Gauguin, speculation as to why he does not commit to joining him in Arles, statements as to being alright without him, etc. 9 See, for example, Vincent’s letter to Theo of July 29, 1888 (Letter 650), in which Vincent tells Theo not to press Gauguin on the matter of joining him in Arles. Yet also see Vincent’s letter to Theo of September 18, 1888 (Letter 682), in which Vincent urges his brother to be firm with Gauguin in discussing the costs of living in Arles.


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that lead up to the description of Gauguin’s role as Vincent conceived it. He begins with a general description of the purpose of the Studio of the South which he envisions as a “shelter and refuge” for artists: I must tell you that even while working I never cease to think about this enterprise of setting up a studio with yourself and me as permanent residents, but which we’d both wish to make into a shelter and a refuge for our pals at moments when they find themselves at an impasse in their struggle. […] In [discussions with Theo while Vincent was still in Paris] it was often a matter of the thing that’s so dear to our hearts […], the steps to be taken in order to preserve the financial existence of painters […].10 Vincent goes on to describe Gauguin’s role as “head” of this studio, with future generations of artists in mind, assuring the long-lasting legacy and influence he and Gauguin would enjoy as a result of their saint-like self-sacrifice: Now I’d like to see you taking a very large share in this belief that we’ll be relatively successful in founding something lasting. […] I believe that if from now on you began to think of yourself as the head of this studio, which we’ll attempt to make a refuge for several people […] I believe that then you’ll feel relatively consoled for your present misfortunes of 10

“Je dois vous dire que meme pendant le travail je ne cesse à songer à cette entreprise de fonder un atelier ayant vous-meme et moi pour habitants fixes mais dont nous desirerons tous les deux faire un abri et un asile pour les copains au moments où ils se trouveront acculés dans leur lutte. […] Dans ces discussions il s’est souvent agi de ce qui nous tient si fort au coeur à mon frere comme à moi, des mesures à prendre pour sauvegarder l’existence materielle des peintres […].” The idea of forming groups or colonies of artists sharing resources was not original to Vincent, though his specific plan of working through a dealer either in Paris or in residence with the artists themselves seems to be somewhat novel. Other utopian artist associations along these lines include the association of German artists known as the Nazarenes, who established a community of this sort in Rome in the early nineteenth century on the model of monastic life. For the Nazarenes the specter of Dante was also significant as an exemplar of morality and chastity expressed through art and they produced several works of art inspired by him. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in England of the mid nineteenth century worked along similar lines and also found great inspiration in Dante. Later in the century the French Rose-Croix group, founded by one Sâr Péladan, also made Dante a spiritual hero and the subject of works art. Common to these artist groups was nostalgia for what they believed was the spiritual purity of the Middle Ages and the unity of arts and religion in that period. In each case the model of monkhood or knighthood, to which they somehow made Dante fit, governed their beliefs concerning the proper conduct of artists within the group. See the author’s forthcoming article on this topic, “Utopian Artist Communities and the Model of Dante in Nineteenth-Century Europe.”

Vincent van Gogh and the Tre Corone 183 penury and illness, considering that we’re probably giving our lives for a generation of painters that will survive for many years to come.11

Vincent continues, characterizing Arles, and the south of France generally, in terms of its heritage of both the classicism of antiquity and the flowering of the arts in the Italian Renaissance: “These parts of the world have already seen both the cult of Venus – essentially artistic in Greece – and the poets and artists of the Renaissance. Where these things have been able to flower, Impressionism can do so too.”12 And, finally, Vincent describes the specific place – actual and metaphorical – he has created for Gauguin in this utopian construction: About the room where you’ll stay, I’ve made a decoration especially for it, the garden of a poet […]. The unremarkable public garden contains plants and bushes that make one dream of landscapes in which one may readily picture to oneself Botticelli, Giotto, Petrarch, Dante and Boccaccio. In the decoration I’ve tried to tease out the essence of what constitutes the changeless character of the region. And I’d have wished to paint this garden in such a way that one would think both of the old poet of this place (or rather, of Avignon) Petrarch, and of its new poet – Paul Gauguin.13 Gauguin is to be the new Petrarch, in conversation with the new Dante, Boccaccio, etc. Their art is to be poetic, on par with the paintings of Giotto and Botticelli. Their conversations about this new art are to take place in the 11

“Or je désirerais vous faire une part fort large de cette croyance que nous allons relativement reussir à fonder une chôse de durée. […] Je crois que si dès maintenant vous commenciez à vous sentir le chef de cet atelier dont nous chercherons à faire un abri pour plusieurs […] – je crois qu’alors vous vous sentirez relativement consolé des malheurs presents de gêne et de maladie en considérant que probablement nous donnons nos vies pour une génération de peintres qui durera encore longtemps.” On the motif of the artist’s life as saint-like suffering – an idea not uncommon in the history of art – and on Vincent’s own posthumous “canonization” of sorts in biography and art historical literature, see Nathalie Heinich, The Glory of Van Gogh: An Anthropology of Admiration (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996). 12 “Ces pays ci ont deja vu et le culte de Venus – essentiellement artistique en Grèce – puis les poetes et des artistes de la renaissance. – Là que ces choses ont pu fleurir l’impressionisme le peut aussi.” 13 “Pour la chambre où vous logerez j’ai bien exprès fait une décoration, le jardin d’un poète […]. Le banal jardin public renferme des plantes et buissons qui font rever aux paysages où l’on se représente volontiers Botticelli, Giotto, Petrarque, le Dante et Boccace. Dans la décoration j’ai cherché à démêler l’essentiel de ce qui constitue le caractere immuable du pays. Et j’eusse voulu peindre ce jardin de telle façon que l’on penserait à la fois au vieux poete d’ici (ou plutôt d’Avignon), Petrarque, et au nouveau poète d’ici – Paul Gauguin.”


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“unremarkable public garden” – the “Poet’s Garden” – across the road from the Yellow House at the Place Lamartine that Vincent had depicted in several paintings and sketches, four of which he placed in Gauguin’s room to set the scene for this new Renaissance of art (Figs. 3–6).14 Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio in the Public Garden of Arles While Dante was apparently on Vincent’s mind long before his plans for the Studio of the South formed, the triumvirate of Renaissance poets named by Vincent in his letter to Gauguin of October 3, 1888 (Letter 695) first appear in his correspondence on September 18, 1888 (Letter 683), in the context of his description of the public garden at the Place Lamartine in Arles: Nature here is extraordinarily beautiful. Everything and everywhere. […] But what scenery! It’s a public garden where I am, just near the street of the good little ladies […]. But you’ll understand that it’s precisely that which gives a je ne sais quoi of Boccaccio to this place. […] Some time ago I read an article on Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Giotto, Botticelli; my God, what an impression that made on me, reading those people’s letters! Now Petrarch was just near here, in Avignon, and I see the same cypresses and oleanders [in the public garden]. I’ve tried to put something of that into one of the gardens, painted with thick impasto, lemon yellow and lemon green.15


The four Poet’s Garden paintings in Gauguin’s bedroom were Public Garden with Weeping Tree (Poet’s Garden I) (F468), Public Garden with Round Bush (Poet’s Garden II) (F1465), Public Garden with Couple and Blue Fir Tree (Poet’s Garden III) (F479), and The Lovers (F485). The garden at Place Lamartine across the road from the Yellow House was divided into three sections at the time Vincent lived there. The Yellow House was damaged during World War II and later destroyed. The area around it has changed since Vincent’s time with the reconfiguration of roads and the garden space. The other major public garden in Arles during Vincent’s period of habitation in the city was located south of the Roman arena at the Boulevard des Lices. It still exists and is known as the Jardin d’Été. Vincent sketched and painted both the gardens at the Place Lamartine and the Blvd des Lices, but only that immediately across the road from the Yellow House at Place Lamartine was termed by him the Poet’s Garden in reference to the Tre Corone. See generally Pickvance, Van Gogh in Arles, for discussion of the Poet’s Garden series. 15 “ici la nature est extraordinairement belle. Tout et partout. […] Mais quelle nature. – C’est un jardin public où je suis, tout près de la rue des bonnes petites femmes […] Mais tu comprends que juste cela donne un je ne sais quoi de Boccace à l’endroit. […] J’ai lu il y a quelque temps un article sur le Dante, Petrarque, Boccace, Giotto, Botticelli, mon dieu comme cela m’a fait de l’impression en lisant les lettres de ces gens-là. Or Petrarque etait ici tout près à Avignon et je vois les mêmes cyprès et lauriers roses. J’ai cherché à mettre quelque chose de cela dans un des jardins peint en pleine pate jaune citron et vert citron.”

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And just eight days later, on September 26, 1888 (Letter 689), in another letter to Theo he mentions them again, once more in the context of the public garden across the road from his Yellow House: the day has been so beautiful again. My great sorrow is that you can’t see what I see here. […] But isn’t it true that this garden has a funny sort of style that means that you can very well imagine the Renaissance poets, Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, strolling among these bushes on the flowery grass. […] Now that’s the garden that’s right in front of my house, after all.16 The article to which Vincent refers in his letter of September 18, 1888, and that inspired the mention of the poets in the September 26 letter, is Henry Cochin’s “Boccace d’après ses oeuvres et les témoinages contemporains” published in the Revue des Deux Mondes in July of that same year.17 From this article, and this initial association of the poets with the public garden across the road from the Yellow House, Vincent constructs the vision of Gauguin as the new poet of the south – the new Petrarch – expressed in his letter of October 3, 1888, with his paintings of the public garden (to which Vincent referred as the “poet’s garden”) as the setting/backdrop for the activities of the Studio of the South.18 Cochin’s article contains the following passage from which Vincent began to spin his vision of the new Renaissance in Arles. Cochin quotes from a letter allegedly written by Boccaccio to Petrarch, recounting time they had spent together at Petrarch’s home in Padua:


“la journée a encore été si belle. Mon grand chagrin est que tu ne puisses pas voir ce que je vois ici. […] Mais n’est ce pas vrai que ce jardin a un drole de style qui fait qu’on peut fort bien se representer les poetes de la renaissance, le Dante, Pétrarque, Boccace, se baladant dans ces buissons sur l’herbe fleurie. […] Or voilà pourtant le jardin qui est tout juste devant ma maison.” 17 Henry Cochin, “Boccace d’après ses oeuvres et les témoignages contemporains,” Revue des Deux Mondes 58.88 (July 15, 1888): 373–413. 18 Vincent could also easily identify with Cochin’s description of Boccaccio’s attempts to persuade the older poet Petrarch to come to Florence. Boccaccio did this in part by sending a poem to Petrarch written in Latin, bringing to mind Vincent’s insistence on exchanges of paintings, particularly self-portraits, with Gauguin (and Bernard) in the months before Gauguin arrived in Arles (Cochin, Boccace, 396). Vincent could also identify with Cochin’s description of the socially awkward Boccaccio who tended towards hero-worship of his idols Dante and Petrarch, wishing to live their lives, according to Cochin (Cochin, Boccace, 390–1). Vincent also lamented what he considered his own lack of attractiveness and social prowess and expressed admiration for those he saw as more successful in those terms such as Gauguin and Millet.


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Every day […] passed very much in the same way. You read of sacred things, and I, eager to possess your works, made copies of them. And when day approached night, we got up and left our work to go together to your little garden that Spring had already ornamented with leaves and flowers. Sitting together and talking, we would pass what was left of the day in calm repose, until night came.19 Cochin concludes his article with discussion of Boccaccio’s passing in 1375 and here brings in Renaissance compatriots also mentioned frequently in the context of the Poet’s Garden by Vincent: “[Boccaccio’s death] brought great sadness. Italy’s third light [after Dante’s and Petrarch’s deaths] was gone. The end of the 14th century was sad. Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Giotto, all these men, who had revived the glory of antiquity after six centuries, were dead.”20 Vincent commemorated this with several images of the public garden across the road from his Yellow House, with four of them planned as decoration for Gauguin’s room (see Figs. 3–6). The garden paintings do not contain historic figures or representations of the poets themselves. They are, apparently, quite simple landscape paintings. Taken as a series, the first (Fig. 3) begins with the Poet’s Garden devoid of human presence (save the abbreviated reference to an architectural structure in the left corner barely visible behind the trees), with the focus on luscious nature, apparently unbounded and untroubled by human intervention. The second through fourth in the series (Figs. 4–6) each feature a male/female couple (apparently not the same couple, as the clothing changes in each work) walking on what is evidently a man-made path. The path is shown without end, without bounds. The garden as well is not bound or enclosed by a fence or wall as in some other public-garden paintings and drawings Vincent created in Arles. The apparently simple Poet’s Garden series acquires meaning, however, when considered in the context of Vincent’s correspondence and the passage from Cochin’s article that inspired the artist’s thoughts. In addition, garden imagery in art and literature is in itself an expression of complex cultural ideas that take on added significance in the context of the writings of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. In general the garden is a constructed space – a sort of utopia (a combination of “good place” and 19 Cochin,

Boccace, 396. “‘Tous les jours, dit-il [Boccaccio], se passaient à peu près de meme. Tu te livrais à l’étude des chose sacrées, et moi, avide de posséder tes oeuvres, j’en prenais copie. Et quand le jour s’inclinaît vers le soir, nous nous levions et quittions nos travaux pour nous rendre dans ton petit jardin, que le printemps nouveau ornait déjà de feuilles et de fleurs. Assis ensemble et devisant, nous passions ce qui restait du jour en un repos calme et louable, jusqu’à ce que vînt la nuit.’” Translation mine. 20 Cochin, Boccace, 413. “Ce fut une grande douleur. Le troisième flambeau de l’Italie s’était éteint. La fin du XIVe siècle était triste. Dante, Pétrarque, Boccace, Giotto, tous les hommes étaient morts, qui avaient, après dix siècles, revivifié l’antique gloire latine.”

Vincent van Gogh and the Tre Corone 187

Fig. 3: Vincent van Gogh, The Poet’s Garden (Poet’s Garden I), 1888 (oil on canvas), The Art Institute of Chicago, IL, USA, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Collection (photo: Bridgeman Images).

“no place”) – where apparent naturalness is actually a product of human art and craft. The garden communicates implications of muses in antiquity and of biblical meaning associated with immortality and perfection, and as a utopian space it embodies both the idea of control (as in an enclosed or walled garden) and lack thereof (as in the pristine openness of Eden before the Fall). More specifically, for Dante, the ancient poets and philosophers of antiquity consigned to Hell as Virtuous Pagans described in Inferno IV reside in an enclosed garden that generates light within the darkness of the infernal regions. In that sense the garden of the poets represents a haven of enlightenment – though, from Dante’s point of view, a limited one, owing to its residents’ lack of knowledge of the Christian God. As well, the earthly paradise at the summit of Mount Purgatory is the Garden of Eden – for Dante a lovely but limited realm that is transcended by the celestial rose of Paradiso. For Petrarch, gardens are spaces within which change and transformation can occur and within which the poet can create new meaning through his writing. Nearly the entirety of Boccaccio’s most well-known work, The


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Fig. 4: Vincent van Gogh, The Public Garden (sketch of Poet’s Garden II), 1888 (pen and ink on paper), Private Collection (photo: Courtesy of Sotheby’s, New York).

Decameron, takes place in a garden that can be said to represent an ideal and somewhat illusory space for humanized delight within a structured society, a sort of stage setting within which human narratives of love, sexuality, play, and deceit come to pass.21 For Vincent, likewise, the garden represented a utopian space where he imagined the great poets of the Renaissance conversing on art, beauty, etc. and whom he, and his hoped-for band of painters in the Yellow House, 21 For

discussion of possible literary connections to Vincent’s Poet’s Garden paintings, see Ron Johnson, “Vincent van Gogh and the Vernacular: The Poet’s Garden,” Arts Magazine 53 (February 6, 1979): 98–104. On the importance of the garden in Dante’s work, see Richard Lansing, “Narrative Design in Dante’s Earthly Paradise,” Dante Studies 113 (1995): 101–13; in Petrarch’s work, see William Tronzo, Petrarch’s Two Gardens: Landscape and the Image of Movement (New York: Italica Press, 2014); and in Boccaccio’s Decameron, see Thomas C. Stillinger, “The Language of Gardens: Boccaccio’s ‘Valle delle Donne’,” Traditio 39 (1983): 301–21. On gardens generally in arts and literature see Robert Pogue Harrison, Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008) and John Dixon Hunt, Gardens and the Picturesque: Studies in the History of Landscape Architecture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992).

Vincent van Gogh and the Tre Corone 189

Fig. 5: Vincent van Gogh, Public Garden with Couple and Blue Fir Tree (Poet’s Garden III), 1888 (oil on canvas), Private Collection (photo: Bridgeman Images).

Fig. 6: Vincent van Gogh, The Lovers/Row of Cypresses with a Couple Strolling (Poet’s Garden IV), 1888 (oil on canvas), Location unknown (Nationalgalerie, Berlin, until 1937) (photo: Public domain)


Studies in Medievalism

would join, metaphorically anyway, as part of the long development of arts and letters, poetry and painting originating with antiquity, revived in the Renaissance, and carried forward by him and his housemates. Indeed, Vincent associated Arles and the region of Provence not only with the Renaissance poets but with antiquity as well. Thus he could see the public garden as a sort of microcosm of the space he felt Arles and the larger region provided for the regeneration of painting – a sort of suspension of time and place away from the industrialization and modernization of Haussmann’s Paris from which he had fled. For Vincent, then, the Poet’s Garden series represented a space of transformation for the realization of dreams, unspoiled yet welcoming of his and Gauguin’s presence, and ready to inspire and receive their poetic imaginings expressed through their paintings. In the Shadow of Dante Vincent was correct when he wrote of both Petrarch and Boccaccio as having been in the south of France, though not in Arles specifically. Petrarch resided in Avignon during his youth and again as a young adult before spending his later years traveling and then settling in northern Italy, where he died. Boccaccio is known to have visited Avignon twice (in 1354 and 1365). But Vincent’s vision of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio strolling together in a garden in Arles, or anywhere for that matter, was a historical anachronism. Dante had died in 1321 in exile in Ravenna when Boccaccio was a child living in Florence and Petrarch a young man studying law in Bologna. In fact, neither Petrarch (1304–74) nor Boccaccio (1313–75), who indeed maintained a friendship throughout their lives, had ever met Dante (1265– 1321).22 Dante’s auctoritas, however, was ever-present in the lives of Petrarch 22

Petrarch’s connection to the south of France was frequently exploited in the local papers and Dante was sometimes mentioned in the same context, adding to the legend (however improbable) popular in France in the nineteenth century that Dante, during his exile, had traveled to Paris to debate theology at the Sorbonne. Regarding portrayal of Dante’s exile in art of the nineteenth century, see Aida Audeh, “Images of Dante’s Exile in 19th-century France,” Annali d’Italianistica 20 (2002): 235–58. Vincent mentions this in a letter of October 15, 1888 (Letter 704), having read an essay on the Félibres (poets led by Frédéric Mistral, who attempted to revive the Occitan language in their writings) in the local journal L’Homme de Bronze. The article, Paul Mariéton’s “En Provence, Sensations d’un félibre,” appeared in the journal in two parts: on October 14 and 21, 1888. Dante and Petrarch are mentioned in each of these: Dante on the 14th and Petrarch on the 21st. Specifically, the article of October 14 claims, ahistorically, that Dante may have conceived his visions for the circles of Hell as recounted in Inferno upon viewing the landscape of Baux-de-Provence, an area about 15 km northeast of Arles. The article of the 21st recounts discovery of the poetry of Petrarch in relation to the development of the work of Félibre poet Antoine Blaise Crousillat. Dante’s influence on the development of the Occitan revival of the nineteenth century has been explored most notably by James Thomas. See, for example, his “Dante,

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and Boccaccio, was presented as such in Cochin’s article, and therefore was also in Vincent’s mind as he conceived of his Studio of the South while imagining an idealized relationship of poets in the garden. Cochin links the three poets together as “the three lights” (Cochin uses the word flambeau, which implies the idea of “torch” or “beacon”) of Italy, but the triumvirate was more commonly known, and had been since the fifteenth century, as the three “crowns,” the Tre Corone. The origin of the term’s use with reference to Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio is difficult to pin down absolutely. It has been proposed that Giovanni Gherardi’s Paradiso degli Alberti (1435) was the first to use it, but this text was largely unknown until the nineteenth century. The three poets generally are believed to have been first grouped together by Petrarch himself as he discussed the relative merits of Dante, himself, and Boccaccio in his Seniles 5.2. Boccaccio is seen to have mediated and found a way to reconcile the legacies of himself, Dante, and Petrarch in his own works.23 Further, the grouping of the Tre Corone – which was first associated with an emphasis on the primacy of Florentine literary achievements and grew, by the nineteenth century, to concern Italian literary achievements as a whole – also has to do, importantly, with the laurel crown that Petrarch alone had been granted in his lifetime, though each is frequently depicted in art with the crown in posthumous recognition of their achievements as leaders in the development of Italian literature. The laurel crown in fourteenth-century Italy had connotations of both individual literary sanction stemming from the myth of Apollo and Daphne and of collective historical sanction in relation to triumphant heroes in ancient Rome.24 Thus Vincent’s modeling of his own artist collaboration, his Studio of the South, on the grouping of the three Italian poets is itself founded on a concept that was constructed in order to promote a sense of lineage in the arts, as Vasari’s Lives of the Artists did for painting in the sixteenth century. This grouping was further mythologized in nineteenth-century reception as Vincent encountered it through Cochin’s article. And through the idea of the laurel crown, it relates as well to the idea of recognition – individual and collective – that Vincent sought for his innovations in painting through the creation of the artistic collaboration he wished to initiate through his Studio of the South. An excerpt from Cochin’s article makes clear the relationship between the poets that Vincent materialized through placement of his Dante-like Portrait of Boch in his own bedroom and the four Poet’s Garden paintings in Gauguin’s. Cochin discusses Boccaccio’s youth and studies growing up the Félibrige and the 1890 Exposizione Beatrice in Florence,” International Journal of Cross-Cultural Studies and Environmental Communication 4.1 (2015): 103–16. 23 See Eisner, Boccaccio and the Invention of Italian Literature. 24 See Sturm-Maddox, “Dante, Petrarch, and the Laurel Crown.”


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in Florence as Dante’s native city, and the influence Dante held over his development: However, from the days when he tried to learn numbers at the shop where he was apprenticed, he [Boccaccio] loved literature/poetry. The great shadow of Dante had imprinted itself on his young mind. “He was, Boccaccio said, my first guide, my first light.” […] In spite of the injustices, the passions and the exile, Dante had filled Florence with his glory. We know, through Sacchetti, that the workers chanted in the streets the verses of the Divine Comedy. Florentine speech is full of this poetry, that had, in one action, established the language and thoughts of a people. It was natural that the elevated soul of a precocious youth [Boccaccio] was seized with ardent admiration for the poet [Dante], whose verses resonated on every street corner. A great figure appeared before his eyes, symbol of poetry, of high culture, of the mind, of science, of a mysterious philosophy. The unhappy and restless child [Boccaccio] was 9 years old; a great rumor spread: in exile, far away, was dead he of whom everyone spoke, the great seer, for whom the earth, the heavens, and hell had had no secrets. The Middle Ages gave to poets and thinkers, whom they often saw as one, a strange halo of magic powers, of occult knowledge, of supernatural revelation. The knowledge of men and of things, of words and their power, appeared superhuman. One can imagine, in what heavenly and mysterious form Dante must have appeared to the mind of a Florentine child [Boccaccio] seized by a passionate desire to learn.25 Cochin, in fact, devotes a great deal of the article to describing Boccaccio’s unhappy youth and the challenges he faced in life (his estrangement from his 25 Cochin,

Boccace, 376. “Pourtant, dès les jours où il alignait péniblement des chiffres, chez le marchand à qui on l’avait confié, il aimait les belles-lettres. La grande ombre de Dante avait passé sur son jeune esprit. ‘Il fut, disait Boccace, mon premier guide, ma première lumière.’ […] Malgré les injustices, les passions et l’exil, Dante avait rempli Florence de sa gloire. Nous savons, par Sacchetti, que les âniers et les forgerons chantaient par les rues des vers de la Divine Comédie. Les bouches Florentines étaient pleines de cette poésie, qui avait, d’un coup, fixé la langue et la pensée d’un people. Il était naturel que l’âme éveillée d’un enfant précoce fût saisie d’une ardente admiration pour le poète, dont les vers résonnaient à tous les carrefours. Une grande figure se dressait devant ses yeux, symbole de poésie, de haute culture d’esprit, de science, de mystérieuse philosophie. L’enfant malheureux et inquiet avait neuf ans; une grande rumeur venait de se répandre: en exil, au loin, était mort celui dont chacun parlait, le grand voyant, pour qui la terre, le ciel et les enfers n’avaient pas eu de secrets. Le moyen âge donnait aux poètes et aux savans, qu’il confondait souvent, une étrange aureole de pouvoir magique, de science occulte, de surnaturelle revelation. La connaissance des hommes et des choses, des mots et de leur puissance, paraissait surhumaine. On imagine, sous quelle celeste et mystérieuse forme Dante devait apparaître à l’esprit d’un enfant florentin, saisi dès lors du désir passionné d’apprendre.”

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emotionally distant father, his indecision regarding his career, his physical ugliness and awkwardness with women, etc.) with which Vincent could very well identify. Boccaccio’s hero-worship of Dante as a distant figure, as a great legend, as a symbol of the best in his art could easily resonate with Vincent who idolized artists past and present. Taken in this context, Dante/Boch over Vincent’s bed, rather than representing a specific person, could be seen to represent for Vincent that overarching vision of the ultimate or ideal Artist/ Poet – perhaps a conglomeration of those artists Vincent venerated: Gauguin himself, who was in Pont-Aven when the portrait was painted, Seurat in Paris, Manet, who had died in 1883, Courbet, Daumier, Delacroix, Rembrandt – all artists who are mentioned frequently in Van Gogh’s correspondence and whose legacies Vincent believed he was perpetuating through his own art. However, the figure of Dante as a legacy of Italy’s past was, for Boccaccio and Petrarch, not a point of agreement within their friendship. According to Cochin, for Boccaccio, Dante was not only a subject of veneration and a source of inspiration but a source of outright contention between himself and his friend and mentor, Petrarch. Cochin explains: The enthusiasm for his [Boccaccio’s] new master [Petrarch] did not cause Boccaccio to forget the master of his youth, his first guide in the path of the muses. He saw with regret that Petrarch, because of negligence or disdain which was little justified, had never read the Divine Comedy. Boccaccio, honest as always in friendship, could not support the pettiness that he perceived in the soul of his friend. In 1359, he sent Petrarch a manuscript copy of the divine epic, accompanied by a Latin poem in honor of Dante, ‘poet and theologian.’26 Indeed, Boccaccio and Petrarch had a long history of disagreement over the legacy of Dante in Italian literature – the primary point of disagreement being Dante’s use of the vernacular (Italian) rather than Latin to write his epic Divine Comedy. Petrarch held that pure poetic genius was restricted to the use of Latin, as the ancients had done, while Boccaccio held that excellence could indeed be achieved in the vulgar tongue.27 Their discussions on this point can be traced through numerous letters but also in the writings of each man, 26 Cochin,

Boccace, 401. “L’enthousiasme pour son nouveau maître n’avait pas fait oublier à Boccace le maître de son enfance, son premier guide dans le sentier des muses. Il voyait avec regret que Pétrarque, par une negligence ou un dédain dont il s’est mal justifié, n’avait point le la Divine Comédie. Boccace, brave comme toujours en amitié, ne supporta pas la petitesse qu’il deviniait dans l’âme de son ami. En 1359, il lui envoya en manuscript de l’épopée divine, accompagné d’un poème latin à l’honneur de Dante, ‘poète et théologien’.” 27 For discussion of the nature of disagreements between Boccaccio and Petrarch over Dante and his works, see Warren Ginsberg, Chaucer’s Italian Tradition (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002); Sturm-Maddox, “Dante, Petrarch, and the Laurel Crown”; and


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in which the shadow of Dante plays a significant role as praiseworthy, to be emulated, or as a target for derision either through direct attack or through complete dismissal, as if he had not been. For Boccaccio and Petrarch, and for all Italian poets after him, Dante was a force to be reckoned with whose legacy could not be ignored. The sniping over Dante’s legacy in Italian letters went on in this way for centuries, long after the disagreements of Boccaccio and Petrarch.28 As Cochin told the story, however, the argument did not damage the strong friendship between Boccaccio and Petrarch. According to Cochin, and as Vincent must have understood it, Petrarch instead responded with sincere repentance for his indiscretion, shamed by his friend’s disapproval: Petrarch was wounded by the reproach he sensed in the laudatory words of Boccaccio [praising Dante], and wanting to defend himself, made a sincere confession. He admitted that he had never read the Divine Comedy, and gave for it a reason that was not very convincing: in his youth, when he dreamed of achieving glory for writing verses in Italian, he wanted over all to be entirely himself and not to be taken as imitating anyone; thus he avoided reading an author [Dante] whose overwhelming influence he feared. Having renounced writing in the Italian language, he became more at ease in praising Dante, which he did warmly, though with some reservations.29 Cochin emphasizes, in fact, throughout the article, that such exchanges and differences of opinion, which were frequent over the long years of their friendship, did nothing to lessen the amity between Boccaccio and Petrarch: Jonathan Usher, “‘Sesto tra cotanto senno’ and appetentia primi loci: Boccaccio, Petrarch, and Dante’s Poetic Hierarchy,” Studi sul Boccaccio 35 (2007): 157–98. 28 For discussion of the pro-Dante and anti-Dante factions in Italian literature, see Theodore J. Cachey, “Between Petrarch and Dante: Prolegomenon to a Critical Discourse,” in Petrarch & Dante: Anti-Dantism, ed. Baranski and Cachey 3–49. Cachey states that “Dante represents the proverbial eight-hundred-pound gorilla in the room of any literary history of Trecento Italy […] [whose] domineering presence […] stimulated strong resistance on ideological grounds, as well as admiration and assent” (7). See also Anne Dupuis-Raffarin, “La Représentation des élites intellectuelles dans les débuts de la littérature humaniste: les débats sur les Tre Corone (Dante, Pétrarque, Boccace),” Camenae 10 (June 2011): 1–11. 29 Cochin, Boccace, 401. “Pétrarque se sentit blessé du reproche qu’il devinait sous les paroles laudatives de Boccace, et, tout en voulant se defender, fit des aveux sincères. Il reconnaît qu’il n’a point lu la Divine Comédie, et en allègue une raison qui n’est pas forte: dans sa jeunesse, alors qu’il rêvait d’acquérir la gloire par des vers écrits en langue vulgaire, il désirait par-dessus tout être lui-même et ne passer pour l’imitateur de persone; il évita donc de lire un auteur dont il craignait la souveraine influence. Ayant renouncé la langue italienne, il lui deviant plus aisé de render homage à Dante, et il le fait avec quelques reserves, mais en termes chaleureux.”

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“It is remarkable that these offensive and hyperbolic invectives brought no coldness to their relationship. […] Little time passed after this violent quarrel and we find between the two friends the most peaceful and cordial correspondence.”30 We can well imagine Vincent’s identification with these stories in Cochin’s article of the two great poets disagreeing yet remaining the closest of friends. Vincent wrote glowingly of one such disagreement with Gauguin after a visit to the Bruyas Collection in Montpellier, very near their final break at the end of December 1888. In the Bruyas Collection they saw works by Delacroix, Courbet, Giotto, Botticelli, and others admired by Van Gogh. Vincent wrote to Theo on December 17/18, 1888 (Letter 726), just five or six days before his breakdown of December 23: Yesterday Gauguin and I went to Montpellier to see the museum there, and especially the Bruyas room. […] Gauguin and I talk a lot about Delacroix, Rembrandt, etc. The discussion is excessively electric. We sometimes emerge from it with tired minds, like an electric battery after it’s run down. […] Gauguin said to me this morning, when I asked him how he felt: ‘that he could feel his old self coming back’, which gave me great pleasure.31 Yet, just a few days before, Gauguin had apparently written a letter to Theo expressing his desire to return to Paris and, just a few days later, on December 22 (the day before Vincent’s breakdown and ear-slicing incident), he wrote the following to his friend, the artist Emile Schuffenecker (1851–1934): My situation here is difficult. I owe Van Gogh [Theo] a lot and Vincent a great deal and despite some disagreement I cannot hold it against an excellent soul who is ill, who suffers, and asks for me. […] In any case, I am staying here, [for now] but my departure will always be at the back of my mind.32

30 Cochin,

Boccace, 397. “Il est remarquable que ces invectives offensantes et hyperboliques n’amenèrent aucun refroidissement dans leur amitié. […] Bien peu de temps après cette violente querelle, nous retrouvons les deux amis adonnés à la plus paisible et cordiale correspondance.” 31 “Gauguin et moi avons hier été à Montpellier pour y voir le muse et surtout la sale Brias [Bruyas]. […] Gauguin et moi causons beaucoup de Delacroix, Rembrandt, &c. La discussion dest d’une éléctricité excessive, nous en sortons parfois la tête fatiguée comme une batterie électrique après la décharge. […] Gauguin me disait de matin je lui demandais comment il se sentait: ‘qu’il se sentait revenir sa nature ancienne’ ce qui m’a fait bien plaisir.” 32 Letter 726 note 28.


Studies in Medievalism

Amitié/Amour: A Friendship Beyond the Norm While Vincent seemed to relish their “electric” discussions of art and life, Gauguin was harboring desires to leave that occasionally came to the surface, to Vincent’s great disappointment. In fact, it could be said that Vincent’s affection for Gauguin bordered on excessive – more than simple friendship – again paralleling Cochin’s description of a sort of platonic love between Boccaccio and Petrarch that surpassed that between male and female to become something nearly mystical. Cochin wrote of their friendship: They exalted friendship over love, as love always involves presence, possession, and the intervention of this earthly and contemptible shell. […] The friendship of these two men united them even at a distance, in spite of absence and death. […] In their friendship so unique, so excessive, they were, as in everything, deliciously sincere. The friendship was without end founded, as they wanted, on the love of virtue, knowledge, and the shared desire to honor their souls.33 This description of their friendship must have struck Vincent deeply: he hoped likewise for frank discussions with Gauguin that, for him, did not threaten the deep affection he had for his fellow painter even if they disagreed: It was a rare and marvelous thing to behold, among the most beautiful of the 14th century. The feeling that united two men so different, so absolutely unique and passionate in their opinions and beliefs, is among the most noble humanity ever conceived. A frankness, courageous and even brutal, a continual devotion, a marvelous tenderness and touching reciprocal indulgence, elevated the friendship of Petrarch and Boccaccio beyond their times and themselves.34 33 Cochin,

Boccace, 393–5. “Ils exaltaient l’amitié bien au-dessus de l’amour; car l’amour exige toujours la présence, la vue, la possession, l’intervention de cette envelope terrestre et méprisable. […] L’amitié qui unit les âmes les unit même à distance, même à travers l’absence et la mort. […] Dans leurs amitiés si particulières, si excessives, ils furent, comme en toutes choses, délicieusement sincères. Leur amitié fut sans cesse fondée, comme ils le voulaient, sur l’amour de la vertu, de la science, sur le désir commun du salut de leurs âmes.” 34 Cochin, Boccace, 394. “C’est un rare et merveilleux spectacle, un des plus beaux que nous puisse offrir le XIVe siècle. Le sentiment qui lie deux hommes si différens, si absolus chacun dans leur opinions et leur préjugés si passionnés, est parmi les plus nobles que conçoive l’humanité. Une franchise courageuse et même brutale, un dévoûment continuel, une merveilleuse délicatesse et une touchante indulgence réciproque, ont élevé Pétrarque et Boccace au-dessus de leur temps et d’eux-mêmes.”

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Similarly, Vincent’s letters in the days and weeks just after Gauguin’s arrival in Arles were often rhapsodic in praise for his housemate, while Gauguin at the same time was becoming increasingly convinced of Vincent’s instability and what he perceived as the impossibility of disagreeing openly with him while they were living together in the Yellow House. Gauguin’s complaint is telling, as it reveals a marked disagreement with Vincent on which artists should be emulated and whose legacies should be continued. Gauguin, in late November 1888, about one month after arriving in Arles, wrote to Bernard: In general, Vincent and I see eye to eye on very little, especially on painting. He admires Daudet, Daubigny, Ziem and the great Rousseau, all of them people I can’t stand. And on the other hand, he detests Ingres, Raphael, Degas, all of them people whom I admire; I reply [to Vincent when we argue], you’re right, soldier, for the sake of a quiet life. He likes my paintings very much, but when I’m doing them he always finds that I’m wrong in this and that. He’s a romantic, and I’m more drawn towards a primitive condition. From the point of view of colour, he sees the possibilities of impasto, as in Monticelli, and I detest manipulated brushwork and so on.35 While Vincent wrote these admiring remarks about Gauguin to the same friend, Bernard: Gauguin interests me greatly as a man – greatly. For a long time it has seemed to me that in our filthy job as painters we have the greatest need of people with the hands and stomach of a labourer. More natural tastes – more amorous and benevolent temperaments – than the decadent and exhausted Parisian man-about-town. Now here, without the slightest doubt, we’re in the presence of an unspoiled creature with the instincts of a wild beast.36 And writing to Theo on November 11/12, 1888 (Letter 719), Vincent notes that he finds Gauguin “a really great artist and a really excellent friend” who gives him “courage to imagine.”37 About two weeks later Gauguin wrote to 35

Gauguin’s letter to Bernard of late November 1888 quoted in note 7 to Vincent’s letter to Theo of November 19, 1888 (Letter 721). 36 Letter to Emile Bernard of November 1 or 2, 1888 (Letter 716): “Gauguin m’intéresse beaucoup comme homme – beaucoup. – Il m’a depuis longtemps sembé que dans notre sale métier de peintre nous avons le plus grand besoin de gens ayant des mains et des estomacs d’ouvrier. – Des gouts plus naturels – des tempéraments plus amoureux et plus charitables – que le boulevardier parisien décadent et crevé. – Or ici sans le moindre doute nous nous trouvons en présence d’un être vierge à instincts de fauve.” 37 “C’est un bien grand artiste et un bien excellent ami. […] Gauguin me donne courage


Studies in Medievalism

Theo in desperation, his ability to tolerate Vincent evidently at a breaking point: “Vincent and I can absolutely not live side by side without trouble, as a result of incompatibility, [and] of temperament.”38 It seems clear from these and many exchanges like them that Vincent was operating under an illusion of friendship and comradery as he wished to see it, while Gauguin was increasingly growing uncomfortable, frustrated, and eventually desperate to leave. Vincent’s utopian vision of artistic collaboration was no doubt influenced by Cochin’s description of a supposedly devoted and mutually supportive and beneficial relationship enjoyed by Boccaccio and Petrarch, in spite of any difference of opinion over Dante as ever-present shadow over their work as poets and authors. Cochin’s description of the relationship of Boccaccio and Petrarch implies, in fact, an affection like that typically described of male/female relationships. Setting the stage, Cochin describes Boccaccio as having been in spiritual crisis, having rejected the institution of the Church of his time as corrupt, but ripe for spiritual cleansing, having indulged in the profane love and sexuality of women. The friendship with Petrarch is presented as an antidote to this, of a higher kind than the love of male/female, yet overall is compared to a passion described as feminine and nearly sexual in nature: “A great soul [Boccaccio] seems thus incomplete to whom friendship has not been given. The friendship of these great men was tenderly passionate. Like the beauties of the feminine spirit they were enclosed, one would say they demanded of friendship the kind of supreme joys found in love.”39 Similarly, the somewhat odd nature of Vincent’s affection, or attachment, to Gauguin, even without their having known each other very well prior to Gauguin’s arrival in Arles, manifested itself in the furnishings he chose for his friend’s room. Vincent tells Theo on September 9, 1888 (Letter 677) that he d’imaginer et les choses d’imagination certes prennent un caractère plus mysterieux.” It is well documented that in fact under Gauguin’s influence Vincent had begun to explore use of his memory and imagination as sources for his paintings, rather than direct observation of reality. Several works exist that demonstrate Gauguin’s influence in this direction, but Vincent ultimately abandoned this and resumed his former practice of painting from observation when he could. One area of disagreement between the two artists concerned the meaning of “the poetic” in art. For Vincent, color was to be used to suggest poetic ideas, while for Gauguin everything was “poetic,” as for him this referred to a state of mind internal to the artist. For this discussion see Gauguin’s letter to Vincent of September 8, 1888 (Letter 675). Regarding Vincent’s paintings done under Gauguin’s influence see Pickvance, Van Gogh in Arles, 201–4. See also Groom, Bedrooms, 46–7. 38 Gauguin’s statements to Theo are quoted in note 1 to Vincent’s letter to Theo of December 11, 1888 (Letter 724). 39 “Une grande âme semblait donc incomplète à qui l’amitié n’avait pas été donnée. L’amitié de ces grands hommes eut quelque chose de tendrement passionné. Comme les beautés de l’esprit féminin leur étaient closes, on dirait qu’ils demandaient à l’amitié quelques-unes des hautes jouissances morales que donne l’amour.”

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Fig. 7: Vincent van Gogh, Gauguin’s Chair, 1888 (oil on canvas), Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (photo: Bridgeman Images).

has decorated Gauguin’s bedroom with fine and elegant furnishings (maple bed, etc.), as “the prettiest room” and “as nice as possible, like a woman’s boudoir.”40 Indeed, in November, Vincent painted their empty chairs, and Gauguin’s (Fig. 7) has been identified as a woman’s in its curvilinear form, 40

“Il y aura pour loger quelqu’un la plus jolie piece d’en haut que je chercherai à rendre aussi bien que possible, comme un boudoir de femme, reellement artistique. Puis il y aura ma chambre à coucher à moi que je voudrais excessivement simple mais des meubles carrés et larges.”


Studies in Medievalism

Fig. 8: Vincent van Gogh, Vincent’s Chair, 1888 (oil on canvas), National Gallery, London, UK (photo: Bridgeman Images).

decoration, etc.; it is in stark contrast to Vincent’s (Fig. 8) simple kitchentype chair of straw and pine wood (Vincent had decorated his entire bedroom with this sort of country kitchen furniture).41 The color palettes used are dif41

Gender issues suggested by Vincent’s description of Gauguin’s room as like a “woman’s boudoir” are discussed to some extent in Louis van Tilborgh’s “The Bedroom,” Van Gogh’s Bedrooms, ed. Groom, 58–60. See also Pickvance, Van Gogh in Arles, 235.

Vincent van Gogh and the Tre Corone 201

ferent but complementary (the richer reds and greens of Gauguin’s chair and setting contrasted with the yellow, greens, and soft red-browns of Vincent’s), suggesting Vincent recognized their differences but saw them as mutually enhancing, or balanced. He placed on Gauguin’s chair a single lit candle and some modern novels and on his own chair his pipe and a pouch of tobacco, and behind it a crate of onions. Vincent’s humble ways are contrasted with what he considered Gauguin’s sensuous nature that was, for him, evidently associated with a kind of femininity within a virile exterior. Further, Cochin suggests that Boccaccio saw in Petrarch a paternal figure in replacement for his own distant and unappreciative father, touching on the kind of spiritual father–artist son motif found in secular biographies of artists since Vasari42: “Boccaccio saw in him [Petrarch] more than a friend, a master, a guide, as Dante had seen in Virgil, and more than that still.”43 We can imagine that Vincent saw his relation with Gauguin in a similar light, himself having had a distant and often difficult relationship with his own father, and seeking a kind of devotion, mentorship, and acceptance from someone he considered more skilled than he, as he considered Gauguin, that went beyond simple friendship.44 Vincent’s expectations, apparently, were more than Gauguin could take.45 42

On the motif of the artist-mentor as spiritual or “real” father, see Ernst Kris and Otto Kurz, Legend, Myth and Magic in the Image of the Artist: A Historical Experiment (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979), esp. 13–60 on the heroization of the artist in biographical accounts. 43 Cochin, Boccace, 395. “Boccace vit en lui [Petrarch] plus qu’un ami, un maître, un guide, ce que Dante avait vu dans Virgile, et plus encore.” 44 Vincent had written to Theo on June 22/24, 1880 (Letter 155), regarding his decision to devote his life to becoming an artist. In this letter he discusses at length his troubles finding acceptance from his family, and particularly his father: “Now, although it may be a thing of rather demoralizing difficulty to regain the trust of an entire family perhaps not entirely devoid of prejudices and other similarly honorable and fashionable qualities, nevertheless, I’m not utterly without hope that little by little, slowly and surely, a good understanding may be re-established with this person and that. In the first place, then, I’d like to see this good understanding, to say no more, re-established between my father and me, and I would also be very keen that it be re-established between the two of us [Vincent and Theo]. Good understanding is infinitely better than misunderstanding.” Vincent’s father had, in 1880, considered having him committed to a lunatic asylum in Belgium. In this regard see the November 18, 1881, letter (185) from Vincent to Theo. 45 Vincent described his hopes and plans for a community of artists many times from 1880 through 1888. Consistent throughout them is the idea of acceptance within a like-minded group of artists, challenge and inspiration from fellow artists, and the idea of continuing a legacy of artistic inspiration. Vincent’s letter (696) of October 3, 1888, to fellow painter Emile Bernard, whom he hoped would join Gauguin in coming to Arles, contains a passage that expresses many of these ideas: “I deeply despise rules, institutions, etc., in short, I’m looking for something other than dogmas, which, very far from settling things, only cause endless disputes. It’s a sign of decadence. Now, as a union of painters exists so far only in the form of a vague but very broad sketch, then let’s calmly allow what must happen to


Studies in Medievalism

The Aftermath The story of Vincent’s breakdown of December 23, 1888, is well known.46 Its outlines are quite simple: the pressure and disagreements became too great. Vincent and Gauguin had had a bad argument and Gauguin had left the Yellow House. Vincent chased after him, according to Gauguin, with an open blade in his hand. Gauguin gave him a menacing look. Vincent turned and went back to the Yellow House as Gauguin kept on, determined to depart for good the Yellow House and Arles. Sometime during that evening Vincent injured himself (reports differ regarding the extent to which Vincent injured his ear – from cutting off the entire exterior to just a bit of the lobe – but recent scholarship by Bernadette Murphy that has been accepted by the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, indicates that he cut off most of his ear, leaving just a bit of the lobe) and arrived at one of the local brothels in order to gift the apportioned ear-section to one of the “good little ladies” therein whom he said gave the public garden the “je ne sais quoi of Boccaccio.” This led to police intervention the following day when a constable, noting upon arrival at the Yellow House that it was filled with blood upstairs and down, fully expected to find Vincent dead somewhere in it. They found him near death, in fact, quite drained of blood. Vincent was hospitalized. Two days later, on December 25, Theo (who had come from Paris to see his brother upon receiving an urgent telegram from Gauguin on December 24) departed Arles for Paris. Vincent remained in the hospital in Arles for several days, then voluntarily committed himself to Saint-Paul-de-Mausole in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence just outside of Arles to begin a lengthy period of isolation and recovery.47 happen. It will be better if it crystallizes naturally […]. For a long time I’ve been touched by the fact that Japanese artists very often made exchanges among themselves [of works of art]. It clearly proves that they liked one another and stuck together, and that there was a certain harmony among them and that they did indeed live a kind of brotherly life, in a natural way and not in the midst of intrigues. The more we resemble them in that respect, the better it will be for us. It seems, too, that those Japanese earned very little money and lived like simple laborers.” 46 The events were reported in the local paper, Le Forum Républicain, on December 30, 1888, as follows: “Dimanche dernier, à 11 heures 1/2 du soir, le nommé Vincent Vangogh, peintre, originaire de Hollande, s’est présenté à la maison de tolérance n.1 a demandé la nommée Rachel, et lui a remis … Son oreille en lui disant: ‘Gardez cet objet précieusement. Puis il a disparu. Informée de ce fait qui ne pouvait être que celui d’un pauvre aliéné, la police s’est rendue le lendemain matin chez cet individu qu’elle a trouvé couché dans son lit, ne donnant presque plus signe de vie. Ce malheureux a été admis d’urgence à l’hospice.” Other accounts of Vincent’s breakdown originate primarily with Gauguin. What is known of the incidents around Vincent’s breakdown in Arles on December 23, 1888, is recounted in greater detail in the notes made by the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam to Vincent’s letter to Theo dated January 2, 1889 (Letter 728). 47 Both structures are still extant.

Vincent van Gogh and the Tre Corone 203

About one week after the attack, on January 2, 1889 (Letter 728), while still at the hospital, Vincent wrote to Theo to reassure him that he had regained his mind and to ask after Gauguin: In order to reassure you completely on my account I’m writing you these few words in the office of Mr. Rey, the house physician, whom you saw yourself. I’ll stay here at the hospital [in Arles] for another few days – then I dare plan to return home [to the Yellow House] very calmly. Now I ask just one thing of you, not to worry, for that would cause me one worry TOO MANY. Now let’s talk about our friend Gauguin, did I terrify him? In short, why doesn’t he give me a sign of life? He must have left with you. Besides, he needed to see Paris again, and perhaps he’ll feel more at home in Paris than here. Tell Gauguin to write to me, and that I’m still thinking of him.48 Two days later, on January 4, 1889 (Letter 730), Vincent wrote to Gauguin directly, expressing deep and continued affection and clearly hoping this affection would be returned in kind: My dear friend Gauguin. I’m taking advantage of my first trip out of the hospital to write to you a few most sincere and profound words of friendship. I have thought of you a great deal in the hospital, and even in the midst of fever and relative weakness. […] Trust that in fact no evil exists in this best of worlds, where everything is always for the best. […] Ever yours, Vincent. […] Please reply.49


“afin de te rassurer tout à fair sur mon compte je t’écris ces quelques mots dans le cabinet de M. l’interne Rey que tu a vu toimême. Je resterai encoure quelques jours ici à l’hôpital – puis j’ose compter retourner à la maison très-tranquillement. Maintenant je te prie à toi une seule chose, de ne pas t’iquieter car cela me causerait une inquietude de TROP.- A present causons de notre ami Gauguin, l’ai je effrayé? Enfin pourquoi ne me donne-t’il pas un signe de vie. Il doit être parti avec toi. Il avait d’ailleurs besoin de revoir Paris et à Paris peutêtre il se sentira plus chez lui qu’ici. Dis à Gauguin de m’écrire et que je pense à lui toujours.” Vincent wrote to Theo on January 17, 1889, complaining that Gauguin had ignored his pleas to see him when he was in the hospital just after his breakdown of December 23, 1888. 49 “Mon cher ami Gauguin. Je profite de ma première sortie de l’hôpital pour vous écrire deux mots d’amitié bien sincere et profonde. J’ai beaucoup pensé à vous à l’hôpital et meme en pleine fievre et faiblesse relative. […] Maintenant au moins rassurez le tout à fait et vousmême je vous en prie. Ayez confiance qu’en somme aucun mal n’existe dans ce meilleur des mondes où tout marche toujours pour le mieux. […] Je vous souhaite la prospérité à Paris avec une bonne poignee de main. t. à. V. Vincent […]. Répondez moi s.v.p.” Vincent quotes from Voltaire’s Candide (see Letter 568 n.3).


Studies in Medievalism

What he got back from Gauguin the next week (Letter 734) was noticeably cold in tone and content, particularly given the heartfelt nature of Vincent’s letter of January 4. After discussing briefly his thoughts regarding some of Vincent’s work on view at Theo’s home and instructing him on how to reline his paintings, Gauguin wrote: “at the next opportunity if you can send me by parcel post my 2 fencing masks and gloves, which I left on the shelf in the little upstairs room. Friendly wishes from me to everyone. Cordially yours, Paul Gauguin.”50 Vincent eventually returned Gauguin’s items. The two artists were never to see each other again after those fateful days of December. Yet, perhaps still thinking of the Italian poets and their friendship in the shadow of the great Dante to whom they both owed gratitude for the founding of Italian letters, and as the subject of a highly favorable article in the Mercure de France (January 24–29, 1890) by Albert Aurier to whom he wrote with gratitude, the ever-romantic Vincent made a point to give credit to his fellow artist and former housemate, Gauguin, alongside the Provençal artist he greatly admired, Adolphe Monticelli (1824–86): Thank you very much for your article in the Mercure de France, which greatly surprised me. […] I rediscover my canvases in your article, but better than they really are – richer, more significant. However, I feel ill at ease when I reflect that what you say should be applied to others rather than to me. For example, to Monticelli above all. […] It seems to me that his, Monticelli’s, artistic temperament is exactly that of the author of the Decameron – Boccaccio – a melancholy man, an unhappy, rather resigned man, seeing high society’s party pass by, the lovers of his day, painting them, analyzing them, he – the outcast. […] Next I owe a great deal to Paul Gauguin, with whom I worked for a few months in Arles, and whom, besides, I already knew in Paris. Gauguin, that curious artist, that stranger whose bearing and gaze vaguely recall Rembrandt’s Portrait of a man in the LaCaze gallery, that friend who likes to make one feel that a good painting should be the equivalent of a good deed, not that he says so, but anyway it is difficult to spend time with him without thinking of a certain moral responsibility. […] You may perhaps then realize that your article would have been more accurate and – it would seem to me – thus more powerful – if in dealing with the question of the future “painting of the tropics” and 50

“à la prochaine occasion si vous pouvez m’envoyer par colis postal mes 2 masques et gants d’armes que j’ai laissés dans le petit cabinet d’en haut sur la planche. – mes amities à tout le monde – Cordialement à vous Paul Gauguin.” The Van Gogh Museum considers the letter incomplete because it has no salutation. It cannot ascertain a more specific date than sometime between January 8 and 16, 1889.

Vincent van Gogh and the Tre Corone 205 the question of colour, you had done justice to Gauguin and Monticelli before talking about me. For the share that falls or will fall to me will remain, I assure you, very secondary.51

Vincent’s ultimate concern in founding his Studio of the South was to create a space within which to assure continuation of artistic influence within creative innovation through collaboration. In this way he could assure himself, and the artists whose works he loved, of a legacy that would transcend time. Looking to a highly fictionalized model of artistic legacy and collaboration provided by the poets Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, he sought to provide the basis for a community of artists to create a new Renaissance of painting at the Yellow House in Arles. And while he died considering his dream and himself as having failed, history has shown that, influential upon other artists and venerated by the art world and the wider public beyond his wildest imagination, Vincent van Gogh succeeded in realizing his vision.52


February 9/10, 1890 (Letter 853). “Merci beaucoup de votre article dans le Mercure de France, lequel m’a beaucoup surpris. […] enfin dans votre article je retrouve mes toiles mais meilleures qu’elles ne le sont en réalité, plus riches, plus significatives. – Pourtant je me sens mal à l’aise lorsque j’y songe que plutôt qu’à moi ce que vous dites reviendrait à d’autres. – Par exemple à Monticelli surtout. […] Son tempérament d’artiste à lui, Monticelli, cela me semble être juste celui de l’auteur du Decamerone – Boccace – Un mélancolique, un malheureux assez résigné, voyant passer la noce du beau monde, les amoureux de son temps, les peignant, les analysant, lui – le mis de côté. […] Ensuite je dois beaucoup à Paul Gauguin avec lequel j’ai travaillé durant quelques mois à Arles et que d’ailleurs je connaissais déjà à Paris. Gauguin, cet artiste curieux, cet étranger duquel l’allure et le regard rappellent vaguement le portrait d’homme de Rembrandt à la galerie Lacaze, cet ami qui aime à faire sentir qu’un bon tableau doit être l’équivalent d’une bonne action, non pas qu’il le dise, mais enfin il est difficile de le fréquenter sans songer à une certaine responsabilité morale. […] Vous vous apercevez donc peut-être que votre article eût été plus juste et – il me semblerait – en conséquence plus puissant – si traitant la question d’avenir ‘peinture des tropiques’ et la question de couleur, vous y eussiez – avant de parler de moi – fait justice pour Gauguin et pour Monticelli. Car la part qui m’en revient ou reviendra demeurera, je vous l’assure, fort secondaire.” 52 In a letter to Theo of April 30, 1889 (Letter 765), Vincent wrote of the failure of the Studio of the South: “my urge to found something very simple but durable was so strong. It was fighting against insurmountable odds, or rather it was weakness of character on my part, for I still have feelings of grave remorse difficult to define. I think that was the cause of my crying out so much during the crises, that I wanted to defend myself and could no longer manage to.”

A Transcription of Helen Waddell’s Notes on the Roman de la Rose and Christine de Pizan: Manuscript Queen’s University Belfast 18/1/c* Jennifer FitzGerald, Angus J. Kennedy, Nadia Margolis Helen Waddell: Scholar, Woman of Letters, and Her Notebook Helen Waddell (1889–1965) was once fêted across the English-speaking world for her scholarship. Her literary history, The Wandering Scholars (1927), made the best-seller list three days after publication; she was celebrated as a translator of medieval Latin – Mediaeval Latin Lyrics (1929), Beasts and Saints (1934), The Desert Fathers (1936); and her historical novel, Peter Abelard (1933), was hailed as a masterpiece, grounded not only in the original letters of the lovers but in Abelard’s controversial theology and in a wealth of medieval sources. Her productivity spanned only a decade, preceded by “captivity” (her term) until the age of thirty-one to an invalid stepmother and followed, after the Second World War, by the darkness of dementia. She gave a final lecture, Poetry in the Dark Ages, in 1947; More Latin Lyrics appeared ­posthumously in 1976.1 * We wish to express our grateful thanks to Louise Anson, copyright holder of the Waddell papers, for permission to publish the relevant pages of the Notebook; and to Special Collections and Archives, Queen’s University Belfast, in particular its Head, Deirdre Wildy, and all her colleagues, for providing scanned copies of MS 18/1/c, and for p ­ ermission to publish material from this manuscript. 1 See Monica Blackett, The Mark of the Maker: A Portrait of Helen Waddell (London: Constable, 1971); Felicitas Corrigan, Helen Waddell: A Biography (London: Gollancz, 1986); and Jennifer FitzGerald, Helen Waddell and Maude Clarke: Irishwomen, Friends and Scholars (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2012). Studies in Medievalism XXIX, 2019


Studies in Medievalism

Despite – or more likely because of – her fame, Waddell struggled to find acceptance within the academy. Her publications provoked critical ambivalence: they were too imaginative, too exuberant – and too popular. She was accused of “jazz[ing] the Middle Ages” – and yet there was no gainsaying, as Eileen Power acknowledged, that her work was “the fruit of a wide and solid learning.”2 Latterly, more flexible readings place her in the medievalist vanguard, while acknowledging the idiosyncrasy of her approach that crossfertilizes scholarship with imagination.3 The following text transcribes a notebook she employed during postgraduate research in 1913, containing one of the first English responses to the Debate on the Roman de la Rose, which sparked the centuries-long querelle des femmes.4 What was the educational trajectory that brought her to this early interest? She studied for her 1911 First Class Honors BA at the Queen’s University Belfast under the Professor of English Literature and Language, G. Gregory Smith, a reputable scholar according to the older tradition of English studies – philology, textual editing, literary history. Smith was also up-to-date with academic developments, publishing in the new field of comparative literature and writing a pioneering study of Scottish literature. In 1909, just in time for Waddell’s cohort, he reorganized English studies at Queen’s as an autonomous discipline offering a specialist curriculum. The students were encouraged to think independently while receiving a thorough, sound education.5 Smith was sympathetic to Waddell’s literary as well as scholarly talents. He appreciated the unconventional approach of her 1912 MA thesis, “John Milton the Epicurist,” which deliberately echoed Walter Pater’s widely admired philosophical romance Marius the Epicurean (1885) by overlaying a range of literary quotations onto Milton’s biography and opus, but Smith 2 FitzGerald,

Helen Waddell and Maude Clarke, 163, 121–22. See in particular: Constant Mews, “Helen Waddell and Heloise: The Continuity of a Learned Tradition”; Charles Lock, “Scholar of the Dark: Helen Waddell and the Middle Ages”; Stephen Kelly, “‘The Ghost of a Voice’: Waddell’s Peter Abelard between Benjamin and Collingwood”; Jennifer FitzGerald, “Reading (into) The Wandering Scholars: The (Inter)textual Text,” in Helen Waddell Reassessed: New Readings, ed. Jennifer FitzGerald (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2014), 21–37, 39–61, 107–25, 173–93, respectively. 4 For modern editions of the Debate, see Le Débat sur le Roman de la Rose, ed. Eric Hicks (Paris: Champion, 1977), and Le Livre des epistres du debat sus le Rommant de la Rose, ed. Andrea Valentini (Paris: Garnier, 2014). Translations: La Querelle de la Rose, ed. Joseph L. Baird and John R. Kane (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1978); Debating the Roman de la Rose: A Critical Anthology, ed. Christine McWebb (New York: Routledge, 2007); and Debate on the Romance of the Rose, ed. David F. Hult (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010). 5 Jennifer FitzGerald, “‘The Queen’s Girl’: Helen Waddell and Women at Queen’s University Belfast,” in Have Women Made a Difference? Women in Irish Universities, 1850–2010, ed. Judith Harford and Claire Rush (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2010), 87–90. 3

 A Transcription of Helen Waddell’s Notes  209

warned her that in future academic work she would need to apply the rigorous training he had imparted to her. The PhD had not yet arrived in the United Kingdom; literature students aspiring to academic careers proved their intellectual objectivity by editing an unpublished manuscript. This was to be Waddell’s next step – but it required residence in either Oxford or London to access said manuscript. The only child left at home, Waddell was subjected to emotional blackmail until she agreed to stay in Belfast as companion to her demanding and, in time, alcoholic stepmother. She undertook instead less prestigious, book-based research on “Woman as Dramatic Asset,” the evaluation of female characters from Noah’s Wife in the Miracle Plays through Shakespeare to Shaw, a topic for which, Smith laughed, she was particularly qualified (professor and student had clashed “on the matter of feminism in the University”). Her subject was eventually narrowed to “Woman in the Drama before Shakespeare,” of which two chapters survive.6 In the 1910s women-centered research in the academy was in its infancy: the London School of Economics offered a fellowship in women’s history, while the occasional article on women and literature appeared in American scholarly journals. The fact that the majority of those studying literature at university were female undermined the status of English as a rigorous discipline, ensuring the imposition of positivist methods. Waddell knew well that, whatever her personal views, she was expected to approach her subject with objective detachment. To examine the development of female characters in English literature she had, inevitably, to start in the Middle Ages. Proficient in French, she tackled the Roman de la Rose, begun by Guillaume de Lorris in 1225–30 and completed by Jean de Meun around 1269–78, which the external examiner for her BA and MA had declared “the most famous and popular poem in all European literature for nearly three centuries.”7 In completing Guillaume’s allegorical dream-poem, Jean satirized the artificiality of the former’s courtly idealism; one of his most successful approaches was a countering disparagement of women. As Waddell read the medieval French text attentively, taking notes, her training did not fail her: she recognized the work’s historical context, its satiric purpose, that the views articulated by the textual persona should not be attributed to the author. But this professional expertise could not forestall a gut reaction to Jean himself: “I do not know what to say of him save this – I do not like him. It may be unjust, but in spite of all his philosophy the taste left

6 FitzGerald,

Helen Waddell and Maude Clarke, 5; “Woman in the Drama before Shakespeare,” Appendix 1, in FitzGerald, Helen Waddell and Maude Clarke, 187–230. 7 George Saintsbury, “The English Chaucerians,” in Cambridge History of English Literature, 2: The End of the Middle Ages, ed. A. W. Ward and A. R. Waller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1908), 191.


Studies in Medievalism

by his precious Roman is not savoury.”8 Unlike her male teacher, she could not accept the “cynical fun” of the Roman de la Rose and the “lively tradition” it spawned.9 Her soul “sickened” by its denigration of women, she “yearned for anything, by way of dry disinfectant”; reaching out for alternative reading material she pulled down a volume of James Legge’s Chinese Classics, the oldest collection of Chinese poetry.10 Turning round the research notebook in which she had been commenting on the Roman de la Rose, and beginning to write from the back, in ten minutes she had adapted one of Legge’s prosaic translations into a compressed but poignant lyric. Approving of the poems and temporarily suspending her research, Smith helped her submit the former to a publisher. In December 1913, her collection, Lyrics from the Chinese, was published. As far removed from Jean de Meun’s misogyny as can be imagined, Waddell’s poems do not hint at their catalyst, although a few protest the social exclusion of women. Many articulate a woman’s pain at separation or loss. Confined within a minimalist verse-form following the Chinese original’s focus on a visual image, each lyric’s emotion is restrained yet all the more compelling.11 Goaded into poetry by Jean’s crude spite, Waddell also channeled her resentment into scholarship, recognizing a sister-in-arms in Christine de Pizan, who had rebutted Jean in the fifteenth century. At the Lyrics from the Chinese end of her notebook, she translated an extract from one of Christine’s poems, another “disinfectant” against Jean’s misogyny. Returning to the notebook’s other end, she annotated Christine’s work as she had the Roman de la Rose.12 Although she had access only to Christine’s poems and not to the full correspondence on the Debate on the Rose, Waddell’s reactions chimed with those of her medieval predecessor. Unconvinced that Jean was merely ironically restating the opinions of his characters, Waddell unwittingly agreed with Christine’s rebuttal – which she had not read – of one of Jean de Meun’s defenders: By having this many accusations [against women] mouthed by almost all of his characters, he [Jean de Meun] still thirsts for more. For even if you wish to say that the Jealous Man acts that way out of inner 8

Notebook, 41. All references to Waddell’s 1913 research notebook refer to the transcribed text following this prefatory essay and will follow this format. 9 Gregory Smith, “The Middle Scots Anthologies,” in Cambridge History of English Literature, ed. Ward and Waller, 2:319. 10 FitzGerald, Helen Waddell and Maude Clarke, 53. 11 For an analysis of Waddell’s adaptations and their relation to Imagist poetry, see David Burleigh, “Chinese Originals: Helen Waddell and Arthur Waley,” and Helen Carr, “Wandering Poets and the Study of Romance in Helen Waddell and Ezra Pound,” in Waddell Reassessed, ed. FitzGerald, 258–67, 247–50, respectively. 12 Notebook, 185–86; 46–48.

 A Transcription of Helen Waddell’s Notes  211 torment, I cannot understand how this reasoning pertains to the function of Genius, who so fully recommends and exhorts [men] to sleep with them [women] without abandoning the work [procreation] he praises so highly. Indeed this same character, more than all the others, vituperates mightily against women, and in fact says: “Flee! Flee! Flee the venomous serpent!” – and then says one should keep going after them relentlessly. He thus contradicts himself appallingly when he commands one to flee what he wants one to pursue, and pursue what he tells one to flee. If women are that perverse, he should not order men to approach them at all, for he who fears getting burned does well to avoid fire. [Par tant de repliques et aucques en tous personnages ne s’en puet sauler: car se dire volés que ce face Jaloux, je ne sçay entendre qu’il apartiengne a l’office de Genius, qui tant recommande et ennorte que l’en couche avecques elles sans delaissier l’uevre que il tant loe. Et cilz meismes dit sur tous personnaiges moult de grans vituperes d’elles, et dit de fait: “Fuyés! fuyés! fuyés le serpant venimeux! – et puis dit que on les continue sans delaissier. Si se contredit mallement quant il commende fuir ce que il vuelt que on suyve et suir ce que il dit que on fuye: puis que tant sont perverses, ne les deust commander approchier; car qui la chaleur du feu redoubte, eslongnier s’en convient.]13

In Waddell’s critical judgment Jean overshot his target: For along with its earthiness, the grossness even of its most idealistic theories, there is a malicious parody, le dieu d’Amour with the satyr’s leer. It is the malice of the thing that makes me sometimes doubt if Jean is serious or no: if the whole machinery of allegory has been set at work to strip the medieval mind of its pretended delicacies, its affected idealism, and let it see itself for the ugly thing it was.14 “The malice of the thing”: their subjective experiences as women in a masculinist culture, with misogyny as an instrument of devaluation and oppression, alert Waddell and Christine to Jean’s bias.15 Irony presupposes a distance between author and character; both readers recognize that Jean is too wedded 13

Christine de Pizan, “L’épistre Cristine au prevost de Lisle, envoyé par la dicte contre Le Romant de la Rose,” Débat, ed. Hicks, 53–54, lines 171–82, responding to Jean de Montreuil, “Ut sont mores,” Débat, ed. Hicks, 42. See also n. 126 below. 14 Notebook, 37. 15 It is interesting to note too that Waddell considers Christine to be “perhaps naturally biassed. She is best when she is caustic” (Notebook, 46). Modern scholars of Christine might prefer “ironic” to Waddell’s “caustic,” since Christine frequently directs irony not


Studies in Medievalism

to the sexual stereotypes he invokes: the defamation he is ventriloquizing is his own.16 “The fact remains,” Waddell noted, “that he writes himself a cynic and a libertine.”17 Waddell’s Notebook provides evidence of her research method: “getting the background,” followed by careful reading of the text and by probing commentary. In 1916 she applied the same approach in another notebook, MS 18/1/d, which examined a large corpus of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century English plays and which included drafts from Woman in the Drama before Shakespeare. Although limited to only two surviving chapters, the final text provides subtle and insightful criticism both of cultural trends and of specific plays. The woman protagonist’s gendered powerlessness is catalyst to tragedy, but male authors are also in thrall to sexual politics, whose motives range from subliminal misogyny to acute discomfort in the face of female sexual desire. Woman in the Drama before Shakespeare offers nuanced, sophisticated feminist readings. Waddell did not, however, become a ground-breaking feminist scholar, following instead a circuitous route over the next ten years and culminating in her acclaimed Wandering Scholars. She found in the Latin songs of the thirteenth-century goliards a humanist alternative to the Church-endorsed misogyny with which her studies had begun. These love poems are sexually motivated but, far removed from Jean’s contemptuous leer, their profanity is touched by veneration for the lovely. They articulate the Platonic strain Waddell traced from the fourth century onwards, culminating in humanism’s discovery of the divine in the material, the spiritual in the human, in woman as well as in man. So Waddell replaced feminism with humanism (as indeed did Christine, as a way of validating her moments of overt feminism). Sensitive to inequity and prejudice, Waddell was nevertheless uncomfortable with making a case ad feminam. She had been trained that only universal emotions – common across the whole of humanity, not just the sentiments of an individual or category of individuals – had cultural and literary validity.18 This perspective was intensified by her religious education; her father’s missionary work was founded on cross-cultural transferability, the belief that “God, man and nature were in essentials the same in all times and place.” Waddell’s translations of texts up only at her opponents but at herself (particularly in the humility topos at the beginning and end of many of her works). 16 Cf. Rosalind Brown-Grant, Christine de Pizan and the Moral Defence of Women: Reading beyond Gender (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 39, lines 3–14. 17 Notebook, 41. 18 Smith’s undergraduate lectures on the Romantic movement included criticism of the sentimental novel, in which emotion is “Individual – therefore not universal” (Queen’s University Library MS 18/1/a, p. 13).

 A Transcription of Helen Waddell’s Notes  213

to a thousand years old are predicated on this faith.19 Such essentialism also reinforces her characteristic romanticism. The same romanticism was implicated in her scholarship, not only in subject matter but also in form. The Wandering Scholars explores the aesthetic and humanistic tradition of medieval Latin through original sources; however, the presentation of this sound history is overlaid by a network of anachronistic, often unattributed, literary quotations. This allusive style is characteristic of Waddell’s work from undergraduate days onwards, assuming that “there are no times or countries or languages in the kingdom of poetry.”20 It also refuses to segregate scholarship from imagination, an approach that delighted readers but tended to jeopardize her academic credibility. Waddell’s allusions supplement the rational argument of scholarly hermeneutics with the creativity of literature. Her professional colleagues may well have intuited the subliminal message that learning was but the handmaiden of art.21 It remains now to assess the general importance of Waddell’s engagement with the Debate on the Rose, and in particular her encounter with the misogyny of Jean de Meun and Christine de Pizan’s spirited reaction. One preliminary point needs to be borne in mind in order to contextualize this assessment. It should be remembered that Waddell did not have direct access to a complete critical text of the epistolary Debate proper, given that Queen’s University Belfast possessed neither Beck’s 1888 edition nor Ward’s of 1911.22 That said and allowed for, it remains true that Waddell’s notes have considerable importance for readers of both Christine de Pizan and Waddell. From the point of view of Christine scholarship, Waddell’s Notebook sheds important light on a small corner of the very large canvas of our ever-growing understanding of Christine reception. Waddell takes her place among the first English-speaking readers in the modern era to engage with the Debate on the Rose, and this at a time when very little material was available to her. What is particularly striking is the replication in the early twentieth century of a debate conducted five hundred years before, in circumstances that, with the advantage of hindsight, are remarkably similar. Their engagement 19

See Norman Vance’s illuminating analysis, “Helen Waddell: Presbyterian Medievalist,” in Waddell Reassessed, ed. FitzGerald, 152, 156–57. 20 Waddell, review of Appreciations of Poetry, by Lafcadio Hearn, The Nation [London] 26.9 (November 29, 1919): 307–08 (307). Our thanks to Ana Avalos-Chavez of Harvard University Library for her help in recovering this article. 21 See FitzGerald, “Reading (into) The Wandering Scholars,” in Waddell Reassessed, ed. FitzGerald, 173–95. 22 Les Epistres sur le Roman de la Rose von Christine de Pisan, ed. F. Beck (Neuburg: Griessmayersche Buchdruckerei, 1888); “The Epistles on the Romance of the Rose and Other Documents in the Debate,” ed. C. F. Ward (PhD diss. University of Chicago, 1911).


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with Jean de Meun came relatively early in their careers, clarifying gender issues that had already surfaced in their lives, and making each of them more determined than ever to succeed as professional women in a male-dominated society (both were successful writers, editors, and publishers; Christine in relation to her own manuscripts, Waddell as expert adviser for the publisher Constable and Co.). Perhaps even more significantly, at a time when Waddell had “sickened [her] very soul of Jean de Meun,” her decision to translate a short Christine extract is her way of paying homage to a kindred spirit who had reacted to the Rose in much the same way as Waddell herself had done. In other words, Christine must be seen as part of the “dry disinfectant” which Waddell had longed for in 1913, and whose effects were just as curative as the composition of Lyrics from the Chinese.23 With regard to Waddell studies, the notes demonstrably portend even greater significance.24 As is already made clear in the preceding paragraph on Christine, Waddell’s confrontation with the Rose Debate inspired her intellectually and personally, helping her to gain a sharper understanding of gender issues during her own life, by contextualizing her struggles within a broader historical perspective, just as we see Christine’s solitary hapless persona doing in her pan-historic Mutacion de Fortune. As a young girl in Japan, Waddell had first come across gender prejudice during a discussion about climbing Mount Fuji (“not for women to climb; it was too holy for that”).25 In 1916, her otherwise encouraging mentor Gregory Smith’s entrenched reluctance to appoint a woman to his department dashed her hopes of obtaining an assistant lectureship at Queen’s, despite her qualifications, “unless there is no available man”;26 nor a post elsewhere when her applications to Westfield College and the University of East London failed in 1926.27 Her other academic and creative works composed or begun during the “lost decade” reflect her preoccupation with gender inequality, her Notebook functioning as verbal sketchbook for some approaches to the problem to 23

See n. 174 below, and Corrigan, Waddell, 103; FitzGerald, Helen Waddell and Maude Clarke, 53. 24 The following paragraphs make extensive use of our concluding remarks in Angus J. Kennedy and Nadia Margolis, “The Debate on the Rose Rekindled: Helen Waddell on Jean de Meun and Christine de Pizan,” in De Christine de Pizan à Hans Robert Jauss: Études offertes à Earl Jeffrey Richards par ses collègues et amis à l’occasion de son soixante-cinquième anniversaire, ed. Danielle Buschinger and Roy Rosenstein, Collection Médiévales 63 (Amiens: Presses du Centre d’Études Médiévales de Picardie, 2017), 116–22. We wish to thank Professors Buschinger and Rosenstein for kindly allowing us to draw on this article pre-publication. 25 See Helen Waddell, Writings from Japan, ed. D. Burleigh (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2005), 84–85; Corrigan, Waddell, 28. 26 Corrigan, Waddell, 134. Most recently on this, see references in articles by C. Lock, A. Tucker, and N. Rogers in Waddell Reassessed, ed. FitzGerald, 41, 130, 289, 290, respectively. 27 See Corrigan, Waddell, 134; FitzGerald, Helen Waddell and Maude Clarke, 117–19.

 A Transcription of Helen Waddell’s Notes  215

be further developed long after 1913. One of the surviving chapters of her woman-centered thesis makes extensive use of the Notebook’s Jean de Meun material,28 as does The Wandering Scholars, in situating Jean as a key reference-point for bourgeois realism.29 Creative works such as Lyrics from the Chinese, Stories from Holy Writ, The Princess Splendour and Other Stories, and the heretofore unpublished novel Discipline (written with Maude Clarke) all explore male assumptions about women’s status or gender prejudice.30 In Peter Abelard, a bestseller from 1933, the historical perspective on antifeminist writing provided in part by Jean, and supplemented by Waddell’s reading of the Vitae Patrum, underlies Heloise’s riposte when Abelard asks her to marry him: “Do you think I have not read what the Fathers have said about women – what men have said about women – since the beginning of the world?”31 By contrast, proto-feminist Christine puzzles us by not praising Heloise, for example, in her Cité des Dames, until we remember that misogynist Jean, equally unpredictable in his own way, had promoted Heloise and her anti-marital invective in his Rose and also in his translation of her and Abelard’s letters.32 Though less sustained than her intellectual kinship with Heloise, Waddell’s typically passionate, sensitive reading of Christine yields another reassuring example of a feminist precursor. Christine’s “Qui sont fames?”33 is echoed in Waddell’s “[W]hat for did the Almighty give women brains?”34 Like Christine five centuries before her, Waddell achieved her success, within a still depressingly patriarchal society, by facing down misogyny through her own strong will and innate talents. Also like Christine, she prevailed by 28 FitzGerald,

Helen Waddell and Maude Clarke, Appendix I, 195–97, 200–01. The Wandering Scholars (London and Glasgow: Collins, 1968), 62, 115, 142, 206, 218. 30 Lyrics from the Chinese (London: Constable, 1913), 24–26 (poems xxi, xxii); Stories from Holy Writ (London: Constable, 1949; reprint, Greenwood Press, 1975; reprint, Kessinger Legacy, 2010), 170; The Princess Splendour and Other Stories, ed. E. Cowell, (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1972), 13–44, 98–104 (100). Also very relevant to this list is her biographical “Lady Mary Montagu,” written in 1916 and published in Fortnightly Review, new series 108/645 (September 1920): 503–14. This has just been re-published, along with, for the first time, Discipline, in Helen Waddell and Maude Clarke, Discipline with “Lady Mary Wortley Montagu,” ed. Jennifer FitzGerald (San Diego, CA: Create Space [Self-Publishing], 2018). Waddell’s life-long link with Constable & Co., initiated by the Lyrics from the Chinese, led to her companionship with Otto Kyllmann, one of Constable’s directors, whom she felt unable to marry because he had been twice divorced (Corrigan, Waddell, 226–356; FitzGerald, Helen Waddell and Maude Clarke, 123–24). 31 Peter Abelard (London: Constable, 1933, Bk. 2, chap. 3:144. 32 Cf. AS (see pp. 216–17), lines 8811–30; La Vie et les epistres Pieres Abaelart et Heloys sa fame, ed. and trans. E. Hicks (Paris: Champion, 1991), 1:49–51. See especially Mews, “Waddell and Heloise,” and Kelly, “‘The Ghost of a Voice’,” in Waddell Reassessed, ed. FitzGerald, 21–37, 107–25, respectively. 33 Débat, ed. Hicks, 139. 34 FitzGerald, Helen Waddell and Maude Clarke, 39. 29


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refusing to counter patriarchal misogyny by promulgating an equally extreme ideal of female supremacy. For despite having endured misogyny in life and in literature, both Christine and Waddell learned to transform their initial exasperation into a more positive and enduring vision: one transcending the accident of gender and focusing on what they saw as the essential humanity common to both men and women.35 Transcription of Waddell’s Notebook: Editorial Preface During the preparation of an article for a volume honoring Earl Jeffrey Richards,36 it rapidly became clear that a fresh complete transcription of all the relevant pages in Waddell’s Notebook (MS Queen’s University Belfast 18/1/c) was not only desirable but essential, if scholars were to do proper justice to the material. The following transcription caters to two categories of readers, whose specialties may not overlap: readers of the Roman de la Rose and Christine de Pizan, on the one hand, and Helen Waddell readers on the other. We have tried to reproduce Waddell’s notes as accurately as possible, inconsistencies included (in particular those concerning punctuation and accents). In cases where Waddell adds a prose commentary on the verses quoted, we have indicated, by one forward slash, changes of line as they occur within the same paragraph in the Notebook. Insertions (and insertions above erasures) are indicated in superscript. The edition of the Roman de la Rose Waddell consulted was the two-volume one by Francisque Michel (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1864), as confirmed by our edition’s relevant footnotes, providing additional evidence.37 We refer also to the more recent and accessible edition by Armand Strubel, containing a facing Modern French translation.38 In addition, The Riverside Chaucer served us primarily for the Guillaume de Lorris notes, as Waddell quotes extensively in Middle English in this section on the Roman de la Rose’s initial author. The Riverside Chaucer’s Romaunt of the Rose is an incomplete translation of about one third of the Roman de la Rose and consists of three fragments: A, dating possibly from the 1360s, has been attributed to Chaucer; C is Chaucerian in tone; while B is probably 35 In

Peter Abelard, for example, Waddell identifies not only with Heloise but also with Abelard. On Christine, see Brown-Grant, Moral Defence of Women; on Waddell’s feminism and humanism, see FitzGerald, Helen Waddell and Maude Clarke, 75–76; Index sub. feminism, 290–91. 36 Kennedy and Margolis, “The Debate on the Rose Rekindled.” 37 FitzGerald, Helen Waddell and Maude Clarke, 190 n. 17. We wish to express our gratitude to Evelyn Mullally for identifying this edition. For Francisque Michel’s ed. online: vol. 1: , last accessed July 3, 2018. vol. 2: , last accessed June 19, 2018. 38 Le Roman de la Rose, Lettres Gothiques (Paris: Livre de poche, 1992).

 A Transcription of Helen Waddell’s Notes  217

not by Chaucer.39 Unlike the Roman de la Rose, which survives in multiple manuscript copies, the Romaunt survives in a single manuscript, Glasgow University Library, Hunter MS 409.40 These editions will be referred to by the following abbreviations:   FM = Francisque Michel’s Rose   AS = Armand Strubel’s Rose   RC = Riverside Chaucer In the case of FM, to facilitate online reading, page and line numbers are included. For AS and RC, normally only line references are given. For Christine de Pizan, Waddell used the edition by Maurice Roy.41 The Notebook: Text and Commentary Page 6 The Roman de la Rose The eternal genealogy of love – not as Milton/ has it, the son of loneliness, but of “Idlenesse”,/ she and none less fair keeps the wicket of the garden of/ the Rose. – “l’Oiseuse.”42 “Thon went I forth on my right hand, Downe by a litel path I fond Of mentes full, and fennell greene”43


The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd edn. (Oxford: University Press, 1988). modern English translations, see: Romance of the Rose, trans. Charles Dahlberg (Princeton, NJ: University Press, 1971; 3rd edn. 1995), and The Romance of the Rose, trans. Frances Horgan, Oxford World Classics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994; 1999, 2008). 41 Œuvres poétiques de Christine de Pisan, SATF, 3 vols. (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1886–96). Online: vol. 1: , last accessed June 19, 2018; vol. 2: , last accessed June 19, 2018; vol. 3: , last accessed June 19, 2018 42 Idleness: FM 1:20, line 584; RC line 593; AS line 582. Wicket: FM 1:17, line 516; RC line 528; AS line 516. The reference to Milton is to his tract “The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce.” See The Prose Works of John Milton, ed. Charles Symmons, 7 vols. (London, 1806), 1:355. 43 FM 1:23, lines 718–20; RC lines 729–31; AS lines 713–15. 40 For


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“Som song songes of lorraine For in lorraine his notes be Ful sweeter than in this countre.”44 On Mirth’s fayre consert Gladnesse – “Her eyen gray and glad also That laugden aye in her semblaunt First or the mouth by covenant,”45 Page 7 As for Largesse – Guillaume has eyes for the subtlety of her garments. “It suited her not ill” Que sa cheveçaille iert ouverte Et sa gorge si decouverte Que parmi outre la chemise, Li blanchoiait sa char alise.46 The God of Love – “And also on his head was set Of roses red a chapelet.”47 A very true comment on the arrow named “Compaignie” “That heavie for to shooten is, But whoso shooteth ryght ywis May therewith doen grete harme and wo.”48 On Beauty “Ne she was darke ne browne, but bright And clere as the moon light, Againe whom all the sterres semen But small candles as we demen. 44

FM 1:25, lines 754–56; RC lines 766–68; AS lines 749–51. RC line 767 = “her” [notes]. FM 1:28, lines 850–52; RC lines 862–64; AS lines 845–47. 46 FM 1:38, lines 1177–80; RC lines 1190–96; AS lines1168–71. The sentence “It suited her not ill” probably constitutes a rendering of FM 1:38, line 1176: “Et ce ne li séoit pas mal”; RC line 1194: “it myssat her nought.” This whole section is written in smaller writing at the top of the page. After “cheveçaille”, there is an erasure, with “iert” inserted above line. 47 FM 1:30, lines 899–900; RC lines 907–08; AS lines 892–93. 48 FM 1:31, lines 949–52; RC lines 959–61; AS lines 941–45. 45

 A Transcription of Helen Waddell’s Notes  219

Her flesh was tendre as dew of floure,49 … Sore pleasant, and fetes with all Gent, and in her middle small.50 “Ains fu clere comme la lune, Page 8 Envers qui les autres estoiles Resemblent petites chandoiles.” Tendre ot la char comme rousée Et blanche comme fleur de lys.”51 In places saw I welles there, In which there no frogges were. And faire in shadowe was everie well.52 – Saw ye ever grass so soft for dalliance – remember Christie’s wooing of Pegeen.53 For long the sight and scent of his Rose contents/ him –/ “For nothing might me liken more Than dwellen by the roser eye And never thence to pass away.”54 and Cupid ill-content shoots that deadly arrow,/ Company, to awaken a ‘love-longing’55 He swears allegiance to the little God –56 “For curteis, and of faire manere,

49 50


52 53

54 55 56

FM 1:32–33, lines 999–1003; RC lines 1009–13; AS lines 992–1013. FM 1:33 possibly 1019–20; RC lines 1031–32; AS lines 1012–13. Text closest to Chaucer. FM 1:32–33, lines 1000–05 (line 4 omitted); RC lines 1010–15; AS lines 992–98. FM 1:46, lines 1391–93; RC 1409–11 (Here the text is closest to Chaucer); AS lines 1380–82. FM 1:46, line 1390; RC line 1408; AS line 1379. For Christie’s wooing of Pegeen, see J. M. Synge, The Playboy of the Western World (1907), likely reflecting the involvement of Waddell’s playwright brother Sam (pseud. Rutherford Mayne) with the vital Irish literary scene at this time. FM 1:59, lines 1824–26; RC lines 1854–56; AS 1811–13. FM 1:59, line 1835; RC line 1862; AS line 1822. FM 1:63, line 1965; RC line 2035; AS line 1952.


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Page 9 Well taught and full of gentilnesse He must be that shall me kisse.”57 Dan Cupid is a snob. I take it back – for in the famous rehearsing/ of the whole duty of lovers he defines gentleness/ as “who so is virtuous And in his port not outrageous.”58 And your true lover shall speak no “rebaudrie” “And all women serve and preise, And to thy power her honour reise: And if that any mis-sayere Despise women that thou maist here, Blame him and bid him hold him still And set thy might and all thy will Women and ladies for to please. And to doe thing that may hem ease, That they ever speake good of thee, For so thou maist best praised be.”59 Page 10 What of that stout mis-sayere, Jean de Meung? And when thou givest, give royally – “in love, free given thing Requireth a great guerdoning.”60 ——— It is not an ethereal passion, for all its/ courtesies – and the lover tossing through/ the night cries out upon himself for the greatness/ of his asking –


FM 1:63, lines 1945–52; RC lines 2004–06 (RC is closer than FM); AS lines 1932–38. Probably unique to Chaucer: RC lines 2191–92. 59 FM 1:70–71, lines 2125–34; RC lines 2229–38; AS lines 2113–22. Part of this passage is highlighted by a vertical line on the left-hand side, from “And if that” to “For so thou maist.” 60 FM 1:75, lines 2267–78; RC lines 2379–80; AS lines 2255–56. 58

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“Sans plus, d’un seul baiser Me daignait la belle aésier Moult auroie riche desserte De la poine que j’ai sofferte.”61 “Would she of her gentelnesse, Withouten more, me ones kisse, It were to me a great guerdon, Release of all my passionBut it is hard to come thereto Page 11 All is but folly that I do, So high I have mine herte set, Where I may no comfort get.”62 His evil case as he shivers in the dawning/ at her gate –/ “Full evil a-cold in wind and raine.” – “Thither she dwelleth that is so sweet, The which may fall asleepe be, And thinketh but little on thee.”63 And should you leave the country – “Thinke long to see the swet thing That hath thine herte in her keeping.”64 No wonder that his new scholar merveleth/ sore/ “How man but he were made of steele, Might live a monthe, such paines to feele.”65


FM 1:81, lines 2489–92; RC lines 2609–12; AS lines 2475–78. FM 1:81–82, lines 2489–96; RC lines 2609–16; AS lines 2475–82. 63 FM 1:82, lines 2525–29; RC lines 2651–54; AS lines 2511–15. The first line seems to come from FM 1:83, line 2533; RC line 2658; AS line 2519. RC is the closest. 64 FM 1:84, lines 2582–88; RC lines 2711–16; AS lines 2568–74. 65 FM 1:85, lines 2604–06; RC lines 2733–34; AS lines 2590–92. 62


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Page 12 To ease his pain, there be three servants which/ wait on all true lovers, and these three be/ Sweet thought, and Sweet speech, and Sweet looking/ – above all the last, for the sight of that/ “fresh wight” dispels all sorrow –/66 “Right as the darkenesse of the night Is chased with clearnesse of the moone.”67 In the meantime, these three – and on the/ far morrow – “more guerdon”;68 but of/ this anon./ ——— The ill Trinity who guard the “rosere”/ Daungere, Wicked Tongue, and Shame –/ daughter of Trespasse and Reason –/ the last being set by ladie Chastitie to guard/ her tree.69 [End of Guillaume de Lorris section] Page 13 Jean de Meung “Lesse plorer enfans et femmes, Bestes fiébles et variables.”70 Jean is utilitarian: an extraordinary amount/ of anything but sanctified common sense. A/ curious idealism – in the very materialism of/ his theory of love. The eternal reparatory impulse/ of the continual wasting to death./ A “simple lifer” – “As tens des premiers pères Et de nos premeraines mères 66


68 69 70

FM 1:86, line 2657; FM 1:87, line 2683; FM 1:89, line 2730; RC lines 2793, 2825, 2896, 2930 (there is no equivalent of “fresh wight” in FM 1:88–89 for comparison); AS lines 2643, 2669, 2716. FM 1:89, lines 2756–57; RC lines 2926–27; AS lines 2742–43. FM 1:90, lines 2774–75; RC line 2949 (RC is closer than FM to this passage); AS lines 2760–61. FM 1:92, lines 2839, 2847; FM 1:93, lines 2849, 2851–53, 2858; RC lines 3018, 3027, 3032, 3033–34, 3043–44; AS lines 2825, 2835, 2838–39, 2844. RC is closer than FM. FM 1:212, lines 7142–43; AS lines 6402–03. Jean de Meun’s Rose provides Waddell with a miscellany of numerous misogynistic quotes, of which this is the first. Waddell came across gender prejudice as a child in Japan, as a student under Smith, and, after composing the Notebook, as an adult in search of a university post. See above notes 25 and 27.

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… Furent amors loiaus et fine [FM = fines] Sans convoitise et sans rapines.”71 He has an “acharné” hatred of the embroidery/ of love – of all “glosing”. Page 14 The irate husband – “Vous faites de moi chape à pluie.”72 “Et sachiés qu’il ne me plest mie Qu’il ait en vous nule cointie, Soit à karole, soit à dance, Fors solement en ma presence.”73 … “Maufé (diables) me firent marier.”74 A poor wife is expensive; a rich one is/ “bobancière”,75 a delicious word surely. “It’s the plain ones who have to be so active.” – S’el r’est lede, el vuet à tous plaire.”76 He lingers on Penelope and Lucrece – “Si n’est-il mès nule Lucrèce Ne Pénélope nule en Grèce Page 15 Ni prode-fame nule en terre S’il iert qui les séust requerre.”77 !

71 72 73 74


76 77

FM 1:277, lines 9106–07, 9110–11; AS lines 8359–60, 8363–64. FM 1:282, line 9260; AS line 8515. FM 1:282, lines 9272–75; AS lines 8527–30. FM 1:284, line 9309; AS line 8564. Waddell has inserted “diables” in brackets, drawing on FM’s marginal gloss. FM 1:285, line 9335; AS line 8590. For other examples in Christine of this “delicious” word, meaning “arrogant, presumptious,” see Livre du corps de policie, ed. Angus J. Kennedy (Paris: Champion, 1998), 22, line 18, 209; Le Chemin de longue étude, ed. Andrea Tarnowski, Lettres Gothiques (Paris: Livre de Poche, 2000), 230, line 2431. FM 1:285, line 9350; AS line 8601. The unexpected r in “r’est” = FM. FM 1:287, lines 9404–07; AS lines 8655–58.


Studies in Medievalism

A comparison between the choosing of horses/ and of wives, to the praise of the former.78 Juvenal quoted as to the demeanour expected from/ him who has found that rarer than Phoenix,/ a woman chaste.79 Jean, like Valerius, is one “Qui de voir dire n’a pas honte.”80 For an instance of his bald prosaic irreverence,/ take his treatment of the famous love of Abelard and Eloise She appears to have been an unusual young/ woman, but I doubt, by my soul, says Jean, “C’onques puis fut une tiele feme.”81 And anyway – “Certes, se Pierres la créust Onc espousée ne l’éust.”82 Page 16 A diatribe against feminine apparel.83 He cites with approval Juvenal’s summary “Car leur nature leur commande Que chascune au pis faire entende.”84 78

FM 1:288, lines 9418–37; AS lines 8671–90. FM 1:289, lines 9458–67; AS lines 8711–20. See Juvenal Sat. VI, line 165. 80 FM 1:289, lines 9470–71; AS lines 8723–24. The Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum philosophum ne uxorem ducat, wrongly attributed to Valerius Maximus, is found among the works of Walter Map (ca. 1140–ca. 1209), either as an individual epistle or as part of Map’s De nugis curialium. See Dorothy M. Schullian, “Valerius Maximus and Walter Map,” Speculum 12.4 (1937): 516–18. 81 FM 1:293, line 9575; AS line 8830. 82 FM 1:293, lines 9580–81; AS lines 8835–36. The absence of Heloise from Christine’s Cité des dames has been frequently commented upon. See, for example, Barbara Newman, “Authority, Authenticity, and the Repression of Heloïse,” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 22 (1992): 121–57; Nadia Margolis, An Introduction to Christine de Pizan (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2011), 74, 177; for a reference to Heloise in the Rose Debate, see also Margolis, Introduction to Christine de Pizan, 65. While Christine clearly could not regard Heloise either as a suitable role-model for women or as an auctor who could contribute to the public good, Waddell was to develop an obsessive interest in the Abelard-Heloise story, culminating in the publication of Peter Abelard (1933) and plans (never completed) for a similar volume on Heloise (see FitzGerald, Helen Waddell and Maude Clarke, 146, 159; Mews, “Waddell and Heloise,” in Waddell Reassessed, ed. FitzGerald, 21–37). 83 FM 1:294–300, lines 9592–810; AS lines 8847–9066. 84 FM 1:304, lines 9891, 9895–96; AS lines 9147, 9151–52. The theme of woman as essentially corrupt underlies the whole of Juvenal, Sat. VI. 79

 A Transcription of Helen Waddell’s Notes  225

… “Toutes êtes, serés, ou futes De fait ou de volonté putes.”85 An amazingly animated performance – with an occasional dramatic line – “Mès or me dites sans contreuve, Cele autre riche robe neuve, Dont l’autre jour si vous parastes, Quant as karoles en alastes (Car bien congnois et raison ai Qu’onques cele ne vous donnai) Par amors, où l’avés-vous prise? Vous m’avés juré Saint Denise Page 17 Et Saint Philibert et Saint Pere, Qu’el vous vint de par vostre mère, Qui le drap vous en envoia, Car si grant amor à moi a Si comme vous me faites entendre, Que bien veut ses deniers despendre Por moi faire les miens garder”!86 So daintily is she shod that she must needs/ kilt her skirts to shew her feet to these “ribaus”87 –/ but in future “de mes housiaus anciens Aurés grans solers à liens … Toutes vous osterai ces trufles Qu’el vous donent occasion De faire fornication.”88 He enforces his speech – and Jean draws/ a vivid sketch of the life that is before him


FM 1:304, lines 9903–04; AS line 9159–60. FM 1:309–10, lines 10063–77; AS lines 9317–31. 87 FM 1:309, lines 10040–41; AS lines 9294–95. 88 FM 1:309, lines 10055–56, 10058–60; AS lines 9309–10, 9312–14. 86


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Page 18 with his wife, chastised but not chastened.89 For – “Fame ne prise honneur ni honte Quant riens en la teste li monte90 …Fame n’a point de conscience Vers quanqu’el het, vers quanqu’el ame.”91 ——— Amis appreciates the difficulty – that/ after marriage the positions are reversed.92

A long discourse on how to serve your lady in/ sickness and in health93 – yet “Never knew I women, so loyal nor so strong of/ heart that a man might be sure of holding/ her by any pains,94 “Ne plus que s’il tenait en Saine Une anguille parmi la queue –95 He is for a moment like Meredith in his phrasing – Page 19 concerning “the woman who runs.”96     – “tel beste Qui de foïr est toute preste.”97 This I do not say of the good     “les bonnes Qui sur vertu fondent leur bornes” – Dont encor n’ai nules trovées.”98 Finally, she who finds no bidder is the/ maid who “à chastéé se rent.”99 89 90 91 92

93 94 95 96

97 98 99

FM 1:311–13, lines 10111–70; AS lines 9365–424. FM 1:313, lines 10163–64; AS lines 9417–18. FM 1: 313, lines 10166–67; AS lines 5420–21. FM 1:315, lines 10217–19; AS lines 9469–71. “Amis” inserted above erasure of “Amant.” FM 1:328, lines 10642–49; AS lines 9899–906. FM 1:328, lines 10650–54; AS lines 9907–11. FM 1:328, lines 10655–56; AS lines 9912–13. See FitzGerald, Helen Waddell and Maude Clarke, 201 n. 58; George Meredith, The Egoist, in Works, 27 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1909–11), 13:159: “she runs, and they give tongue; she is a creature of the chase.” FM 1:328, lines 10660–61; AS lines 9917–18. FM 1:328, lines 10664–66; AS lines 9921–23. FM 1:329, line 10679; AS line 9936.

 A Transcription of Helen Waddell’s Notes  227

He has some insight – if you aimed/ [to] keep the love of a pucelle. “Quiex qu’el soient, ledes ou beles” … Qu’il donne à toutes à entendre Qu’il ne se puet vers eus desfendre, Tant est esbahis et supris De lor biautés et de lor pris.”100 “Combien qu’el soit lède clamée Page 20 Jurt qu’el est plus bel que fée.”101 And above all things, never give them any good/ advice. They do not need it. Never do they do aught/ but what they ought.102 As for wisdom – “El est à tel sens tous jours née. “Et qui chastier la vorroit Jamès de s’amor ne jorroit.”103 And now, compagnon, to the winning of thy Rose.104 There are moments when one can endure him – “Bien puet en robes de colors Sainte religion florir. Maint sainte [sic] a l’en veu morir, Et maintes saintes glorieuses, Dévotes et religieuses, Qui draps communs tous jours vestirent, N’onques por ce mains n’ensaintirent.”105 And still more appealing in its simplicity – Page 21 “Mès presque très toutes les saintes Qui par églises sont priées, Vierges chastes, et mariées 100 FM

1:329, lines 10683, 10688–91; AS lines 9940, 9945–48. 1:330, lines 10698–99; AS lines 9955–56. 102 FM 1:330–31, lines 10710–32; AS lines 9967–90. 103 FM 1:331, lines 10730–32; AS lines 9988–90. 104 FM 1:331, line 10733; AS line 9991. 105 FM 2:7, lines 11864–70; AS lines 11100–06. 101 FM


Studies in Medievalism

Qui mainz biaus enfans enfanterent, Les robes du siècle portèrent Et en cels méismes morurent, Qui saintes sunt, seront et furent.”106 Faux-Semblant’s indictment is Jean at his best. Dost thou not fear God?          “Non, certes, Qu’envis puet à grant chose ataindre En ce siecle qui Dieu veut craindre.”107 He vaunts his cure of souls – provided/ they be wealthy – “Je n’aime pas tel confession Se n’est par autre occasion. Page 22 Je n’ai cure de povre gent. Lor estat n’est ne bel ne gent. Ces empereris, ces duchesses, Ces roïnes et ces contesses, Ces hautes dames palasines, Ces abbéesses, ces béguines, Ces baillives, ces chevalières, Ces bourgeoises cointes et fières, Ces nonains et ces demoiselles Por que soient riches ou belles.”108 ——— La Vieille is the true Celestine. “Mon tens jolis est tous alés, Et li vostres est à venir.”109 ——— 106 FM

2:7, lines 11872–78; AS lines 11108–14. After “enfans,” “porterent” (prompted by the following line) is erased, and “enfanterent” is inserted above the line. 107 FM 2:27, lines 12453–56; AS lines 11532–34. “Dost thou not fear God?” is a translation of FM 2:27, line 12453; AS line 11531. 108 FM 2:29, lines 12511–22; AS lines 11577–88. The “dames palasines” and “baillives” are the wives of court officials (cf. English “paladin”) and bailiffs. The “or” of “Por” (last line) is inserted above an erasure. 109 FM 2:67, lines 13683–84; AS lines 12746–47. Celestine is a reference to the Spanish La Celestina, published in 1499. The character Celestina has become the archetypal figure of the procuress.

 A Transcription of Helen Waddell’s Notes  229

Page 23 Yet another of his surprises – the marvellously/ tender description of “Li oisillon du vert/ boscage.” – when he is caught and caged, Fed is he very daintily, Cared for most solicitously, Sings, as it may seem to you, From very gaiety of heart. ’Tis because his heart is yearning For the branching woods that were by grace/ of nature so dear. Fain would he be among/ the trees again – even though his fare were poorer/ far. All day long and every day he thinks/ and plans and frets to win again that “franche vie.” For the ardour that gnaws/ his heart he tramples his food at his feet;/ tears up and down his cage, agonizedly/ seeking how by what window or loophole he may fly to the woods once more.110 Even so learn that all women, be they/ matron or maid, whatever their condition, Page 24 have a natural inclination that drives them to/ seek of their own will, by what road, by what/ pathway, they may come to liberty.111 ——— One splendid stroke of satire – the man who/ has taken the vows and wakened in agony –/ and those without marvel at his good fortune –/ fish gaping at their comrade prisoner –112 Since “il a léans assès [sic] viande Tele cum chascun d’eus demande.”113 Page 25 A swinging [sic] piece of declamation on Trojan Helen. 110 FM

2:104–05, lines 14888–905; AS lines 13945–62; “franche vie” occurs in FM 2:105, line 14899; AS line 13956. Waddell refers to this passage on no fewer than three occasions (see also Notebook, 25–26, 38–39). The image of the caged bird longing for freedom sums up her own predicament in 1913, obliged as she was to sacrifice her ambitions to caring for her stepmother. 111 FM 2:105, lines 14906–13; AS lines 13963–70. 112 FM 2:105–06, lines 14914–939; AS lines 13971–96. 113 FM 2:106, lines 14940–41; AS lines 13997–98.


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“Mès les morts n’en sunt pas sèus, (sus) Quant en escrit ne sunt léus (lus), Car ce ne fut pas la première Non sera-ce la darrenière, Par qui guerres vendront et vindrent Entre ceux qui tendront et tindrent Lor cuers mis en amor de fame, Dont maint ont perdu cors et ame Et perdront, si li siècles dure.114 ——— “L’oisillon du vert boscage Quant il est pris et mis en cage, Nourris moult attentivement, Léans (la-dédans) [sic] délicieusement Et chante, tant cum sera vis, De cuer gai, ce vous est avis, Si désire-t-il les bois ramés Page 26 Qu’il a naturelment aimés, Et vodroit sur les arbres estre, Ja si bien n’el saura-l’en pestre; Tous jours y pense, et s’estudie A recouvrer sa franche vie. Sa viande à ses piez démarche Par l’ardor qui son cuer li charche, Et vet par sa cage traçant A grant angoisse porchaçant Comment fenestre ou pertuis truisse Par quoi voler au bois s’en puisse. Ausinc sachiés que toutes fames, Soient damoiselles ou dames, De quelconque condicion, Ont naturel entencion Qu’el chercheraient volontiers, Par quex chemins, par quex sentiers, 114 FM

2:104, lines 14874–82; AS lines 13931–39. The parenthetic “(sus)” and “(lus)” are Waddell’s own additions, i. e., she has not taken them on this occasion from FM’s marginal glosses. “Lor” (third-to-last line) is written in above the erasure of “Leurs.”

 A Transcription of Helen Waddell’s Notes  231

A franchise venir porroient, Car tous jours avoir la vorroient.115 Page 27 Was it in the Roman that Biron learned the/ gibe in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” “Nus ne puet mettre en fame garde, S’ele-méisme ne se garde: Se c’iert Argus qui la gardast –116 ——— The eternal sneer against woman’s meanness. “Et contre sa nature pèche Fame qui de largesse a tèche.”117 His “moult humblement” apology/ aux dames is unconventional.118 He said what he did say neither from/ drunkenness, nor chagrin, hatred nor envy;/ but simply119 – “that you Que nous et vous de nous-meisme 115 FM

2:104–05, lines 14888–913; AS lines 13945–70. In Notebook, 25, fourth-to-last line, “(‘la-dédans’)” misaccentuates FM’s marginal gloss: “(‘là-dedans’).” 116 FM 2:117–18, lines 15326–28; AS lines 14385–87. FM 2:117–18, lines 15326–28; AS lines 14385–87. Waddell’s query as to whether Shakespeare’s Biron/Berowne was influenced by the Rose, in Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act III. i, lines 208–09 (The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, ed. W. J. Craig [London: Oxford, 1955], 152) should probably be answered in the negative. The Bard was far more likely influenced by Ovid (as suggested even in the title Love’s Labour’s Lost) than he was by Jean de Meun, either through his Ars amatoria, 3: 611–58, as Félix Lecoy’s note to these lines offers in his ed. of the Rose, 3 vols., CFMA (Paris: Champion, 1966), 2:296; or Amores, 3.4:19–20. See, for example, Jamie C. Fumo, “Argus’s Eyes, Midas’s Ears, and the Wife of Bath as Storyteller,” in Metamorphosis: The Changing Face of Ovid in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, ed. Alison Keith and Stephen James Rupp (Toronto: Centre for Renaissance & Reformation Studies, 2007), 131–50 (133). Also, Chaucer, who generally avoids the Rose’s most misogynistic passages, omits this passage in his Romaunt, Shakespeare’s most likely access to the Rose. See Miri Rubin, “The Languages of Late-Medieval Feminism,” in Perspectives in Feminist Political Thought, ed. Tjitske Akkerman and Siep Stuurman (New York: Routledge, 1998), 34–48 (44). For Chaucer (first printed 1532) as source for Shakespeare, see, for example, John Vyvyan, The Shakespearean Ethic (London: Chatto and Windus, 1959), 159. 117 FM 2:119, lines 15378–79; AS lines 14437–38. 118 FM 2:144–45, lines 16133–52; AS lines 15199–218. The phrase “moult humblement” is taken from the subheading in FM, 144. 119 FM 2:145, lines 16143–46; AS lines 15209–12.


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Poissons cognoissance avoir, Car il fait bon de tout savoir.”120 Page 28 For we are not to hold him as a liar – he has/ said nothing but what is borne out by the/ testimony of the ancients and his own experience.121 “Cil les meurs femenins savoient Car tous esprovés les avoient. Et tiex ès fames les trouvèrent Que par divers tens esprovèrent. Par quoi miex m’en devès quitter.” … Et tout [sic] à ma raison s’accordent Quant les meurs femenins recordent.”122 Page 29 A panegyric on Nature – more enthusiastic/ than on any of her sex. fair – “Com flor de lis en mai novele. Rose sus rain, ne noif sur branche N’est si vermeil ne si blanche” –123 he has striven for expression, but he is/ weary.124 ——— A dramatic digression – and an/ admirable one – on the wiles of women once/ their curiosity is piqued, with an isance an/ instance of delicious irony. “Je vois toutes ces autres femmes, Qui sunt de lor hostiez dames Que leur maris en eus se fient, Tant que tous lor secrez lor dient.” –       bien le sais Car maintes fois oï les ai: Qu’el m’ont trèstuit recongnéu 120 FM

2:145, lines 16150–52; AS lines 15216–18. 2:145, lines 16153–66; AS lines 15219–32. 122 FM 2:145, lines 16167–71 and lines 16163–64; AS lines 15233–37, 15229–30. In the penultimate line, FM = “Et tuit,” which makes better sense with the plural verb “s’accordent.” 123 FM 2:179, lines 17178–80; AS lines 16246–48. 124 FM 2:176, lines 17101–02; FM 2:179, lines 17183–84; AS lines 16169–70, 16251–52. 121 FM

 A Transcription of Helen Waddell’s Notes  233

Page 30 Quanqu’el ont oï et véu, Et tout néis quanqu’eles cuident.”125 “pour encourager”? “Biaux seigners, gardez-vous des fames. Fuiés, fuiés, fuiés, fuiés. Fuiés, enfans, fuiés tel beste.”126 – Not that he means to counsel flight from/ a dear wife – far be it from him. “Bien les vestés, bien les chauciés E tous jours à ce laborés Que les servés et honorés Por continuer votre espièce, Si que la mort ne le despiece. Mès jà tant ne vous y fiez.127 – It is well that they should [word omitted: “attend to”?] the house – c’est Page 31 leur métier, ça,”128 but beware of all/ things lest “Que trop de pouvoir leur donnez.”129 ——— His imagination warms at the sight of/ Nature working in her forge at the weapons/ with which she wars against Death. A/ very medieval vision of a grim Mors pursuing his prey – “Qui fuient, pour eus déporter, Tant cum piez les puent porter, Dont l’un s’enfuit à la karole, 125 FM

2:186, lines 17420–23; FM 2:187, lines 17430–34; AS lines 16487–90, 16497–501. 2:189, line 17514; FM 2:190, lines 17519–20; AS lines 16581, 16586–87. This is a passage (cf. Virgil’s Eclogues 3:92–93) that inflamed Christine in her Rose Debate epistle to Jean de Montreuil (Débat, ed. Hicks, 17, 201n.) – also taken up by Gerson – and again in her Cité des Dames, 1.8, in Débat, ed. Hicks, 189–90 (see, too, La Città delle dame, intro. and trans. Patrizia Caraffi and ed. E. J. Richards [Milan: Luni, 1998], 66). See also n. 13 above. 127 FM 2:191, lines 17561–66; AS lines 16628–33. 128 FM 2:191, line 17569; AS line 16636. 129 FM 2:192, line 17579; AS line 16646. 126 FM


Studies in Medievalism

L’autre au moustier, l’autre à l’escole, Li autre à lor marcheandises – Li autre à lor autres déliz De vins, de viandes, de lis. Li autre, pour plus tost foïr, Que Mors ne les face enfoïr, Page 32 S’en monte [sic] sur lor grans destriers A tout lor sororés estriers (gilded spurs).130 – But in the end Death, who follows them so far “Tant les sieut par mer et par terre, Qu’en la fin toutes les enserre.”131 Yet is Nature triumphant: she has preserved “l’espèce.”132 Art upon her knees before nature, craving the ultimate gift – of life.133 ——— A strange digression on the visions seen by those/ who are given to “trop grant contemplacion”.134 “Qui vit enfer and paradis, Et ciel et air, et mer et terre, Et tout quanque l’en y peut querre. Il voit estoiles aparair Et voit oiseaus voler par air, Et voit poissons par mer noier, Page 33 Et voit bestes par bois joier, Et faire tours et biaus et gens; Et voit divérsités de gens, Les uns en chambre solacier, 130 FM

2:169, lines 16859–63, 16865–70; AS lines 15927–38. Waddell’s “s’en monte” is an error for the plural “s’en montent’” in FM. The parenthetic “gilded spurs” exploits FM’s marginal gloss of “sororés” as “dorés.” 131 FM 2:171, lines 16903–04; AS lines 15971–72. 132 FM 2:171, lines 16909–10; AS lines 15977–78. 133 FM 2:172, lines 16956–57; AS lines 16023–24. 134 FM 2:243, line 19293; AS line 18362.

 A Transcription of Helen Waddell’s Notes  235

Les autres voit par bois chacier, Par montaignes et par rivières, Par prez, par vignes, par jachières. Et songe plaiz (trials) et jugemens, Et guerres et tournoiemens, Et baleries et karoles, Et ot vieles et citoles, Et flere espices odoreuses, Et goute choses savoreuses, Et gist entre les bras s’amie Et toutefois n’y est il mie.”135 Page 34 Vénus, qui moult est sage dame (Car trop a de barat en fame)136 ——— Jean is a leveller. “Si ne di-ge pas ne n’afiche Que rois doient estre dit riche Plus que les persones menues Qui vont nuz piez parmi les rues, Car soffisance fait richèce, Et convoitise fait povrèce.”137 ——— The high heaven takes no note of the death or fall/ of kings. “Car leur cors ne vault une pome Oultre le cors d’un charruier Ou d’un clerc ou d’un escuier.138

135 FM

2:243–44, lines 19303–23; AS lines 18372–92. On Notebook, 32, last line: FM glosses “noier” as “nager.” Notebook, 33, line 8: Waddell has written in “trials” above “plaiz,” drawing once again on FM’s marginal glosses (here “procès”). Notebook, 33, fifthto-last line, FM glosses “vieles et citoles” as “violons et mandores” [“mandore” = a type of mandolin]. 136 FM, 2:235, lines 19044–45; AS lines 18113–14. 137 FM 2:249, lines 19494–99; AS lines 18565–70. 138 FM 2:250, lines 19525–27; AS lines 18596–98.


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Page 35 “Noblesse vient de bon corage.” – a very/ favourite text with Jean de Meung.139 Here is the true and parfit gentil knyght. “Quiconques tent à gentillèce D’orgueil se gart et de paresse, Aille aux armes ou à l’estude, Et de vilenie se vuide. Humble cuer ait, courtois et gent, En très tous leus, vers tout gent, For, sens plus, vers ses enemies, Quant acort n’y puet estre mis. Dames honeurt et demoiselles, Mès ne se fie trop en elles, Qu’il l’en porroit bien méscheoir Maint en a-l’en véu doloir.”140 You will be interested to learn that falling/ stars are “Dragons volans et estenceles”141 Page 36 He can be stately. – “Dieu qui voit en sa présence La triple temporalité Sous un moment d’éternité.”142 One of the few medievals who read Plato143 instead/ of Aristotle – and translates the passage on the/ eternity of the creation of God. “Par nature [estes] corrumpables Par ma volonté pardurables.”144

139 FM

2:251, line 19552; AS line 18623. Also a Christinian ideal, cf. Livre des fais et bonnes meurs du sage roy Charles V, ed. Suzanne Solente, SHF 437, 444, 2 vols. (Paris: Champion, 1936, 1940; reprint, Geneva: Slatkine-Mégariotis, 1977). See, for example, Part 1, chap. 4, line 14. 140 FM 2:254, lines 19614–25; AS lines 18655–96. 141 FM 2:262, line 19847; line 18919. 142 FM 2:266, lines 20006–08; AS lines 19078–80. 143 FM 2:267, line 20046; AS line 19118. 144 FM 2:267, lines 20019–20; AS lines 19091–92.

 A Transcription of Helen Waddell’s Notes  237

“Fame sui,” says Lady Nature “si ne me puis taire.”145 ——— Page 37   There are humours where the Roman seems the/ work of one of the coarser sort of devils. For/ along with its earthiness, the grossness even of its/ most idealistic passages theories, there is a malicious/ parody, le dieu d’Amour with the satyr’s leer. It is/ the malice of the thing that makes me sometimes doubt if/ Jean is serious or no: if the whole machinery of allegory has been/ set at work to strip the medieval mind of its pretended/ delicacies, its affected idealism, and let it see itself for the/ ugly thing it was. It is good for us, says Jean in one/ of his gravest moods, to know ourselves. Is he indeed/an H.G. Wells, proclaiming at the top of his voice that/ beasts we are and as beasts we must behave—or is it/ more of Swift’s temper – beasts ye are and behave so/ if ye will – for any sake don’t pretend to be any/thing else. On the whole, one inclines to the former: there/ is too much of “la joie des sens largement ouverts/ à la vie” for the latter. He is an uncompromising materialist.146 Page 38 The simplicity of the life of the “ceux qui portent sacs de charbon/ à grève”147 is very near his heart: “Ils travaillent en patience, Et ballent et dansent et sautent, Et vont à Saint-Marcell aux tripes Ne se prisent trèsor [sic] deux pipes: Mais dépensent à la taverne Tout leur gain, toute leur epargne, Puis revont porter les fardeaux, 145 FM

2:270, line 20150; AS line 19222. reference to H. G. Wells is to his The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896). The reference to Swift is probably to “The Beast’s Confession,” a poem that ends: “[…] that now and then/ Beasts may degenerate into men.” Online: , last accessed June 22, 2018. The reference to “la joie des sens largement ouverts à la vie” is to Gustave Lanson, Histoire de la littérature française, 11th edn. (Paris: Hachette, 1909; 1st edn. 1894), 139. Last line of Notebook, 37: “uncompromising,” is written in above an erasure. Waddell’s view of Jean de Meun as a cynic and materialist, though based on her own reading of the text, may owe something to Lanson’s commentary (see Lanson, Histoire, 132, 137). 147 FM 1:168, line 5770; AS line 5045. Cf. Lanson (Histoire, 135) who quotes the same passage: “Il faut voir notre poète peindre largement, gravement, avec une sympathie chaude et joyeuse, la vie des ribauds qui ‘portent sacs de charbon en Grève’.” 146 The


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Joyeusement, non pas par dueil, Et leur pain loyalement gagnent, [– line omitted] Puis revont au tonneau et boivent Et vivre [sic] si comme on doit vivre.”148 [FM 1: 169, line 5783 = Et vivent si cum vivre doivent.] They live near the earth, and follow the impulse/ of Nature: so should all men live.   Withal he has his moments. The sudden per/ception of the ache for “la franche vie”149 in all/ women’s hearts, however luxurious their captivity. Chaucer learned it from him – Page 39 “Women of kind desiren libertie And not to be constrained as a thrall.”150 – and again, his vision of the “women and/ unwedded maids”151 whom Holy Church has clad/ in sainthood; above all the vision that redeems/ even the grossness of his view of life – the impulse/ of love as Nature’s weapon in her war with death./ It is not medieval in its absorption in things/ temporal: Jean is little concerned with another/ world. It is the typical attitude of the century/ immediately before the Renaissance: irreverent,/ destructive of symbolism, materialist, without the/ Renaissance vision of the beauty in the material:/ it is a temper without illusions, sensual rather/ than sensuous; filling the mind as Faux Semblant filled/           “ma pance De bons morciaus et de bons vins.”152 Page 40   Chastity is not near his heart; chiefly because of its/ uselessness. After all, there is no argument for it/ unless from the point of view of the ideal, and that is/ a standpoint which Jean de Meung never reached.

148 FM

1:168–69, lines 5772–83; AS lines 5047–58. 2:105, line 14899; AS line 13956. 150 FM 2:105, lines 14898–99; RC, 179, “The Franklin’s Tale,” lines 768–69; AS lines 13955–56. 151 FM 2:105, line 14907; AS line 13964. 152 FM 2:16, lines 12155–56; AS lines 11238–39. 149 FM

 A Transcription of Helen Waddell’s Notes  239

  Yet another of his strangely modern asides – and a/ new ideal of marriage – the folly of him “Qui se fait seignor de sa fame, Qui ne redoit mie estre dame, Mais sa pareille et sa compaigne; Si cum la loi les acompaigne Et il redoit ses compains estre Sans soi faire seignor ni mestre,”153 This is half the “mésaise” of matrimony. “Car il convient amor mourir Quant amant veulent seignorir.” Amors ne puet durer ne vivre Si n’est en cuer franc et délivre.154 How shall he claim to be lord over her whom he/ once called mistress. Page 41 Note again, Jean’s deliberate brutality in speech,/ forcing his editors to take to asterisks.155 He/ notes it himself, defies criticism. “Car de nule rien ge n’ai honte.”156 – a spade a spade and “honi soit qui mal y pense.” En effet, the gauntlet flung to the “Pinky-Dinkies.”157 153 FM

1:313, lines 10175–80; AS lines 9429–34. 1:313–14, lines 10189–92; AS lines 9443–46. Given that by 1913 Waddell was well aware of feminist issues, it is interesting that she highlights this passage on the equality of partners within marriage as one of Jean’s “strangely modern asides,” “a new ideal of marriage, which she would further explore in Discipline (1916) (see above, p. 215).” 155 See for example FM 1:230, line 7672; cf. AS line 6925 (where there is no recourse to asterisks). Christine’s similar objections to Jean’s crassness unfairly earned her a reputation for prudishness: Christine was in fact simply deploring the use of explicit sexual terms as inappropriate in the mouth of Reason or Genius, since allegorical figures should speak in line with their traditional attributes. See Brown-Grant, Moral Defence of Women, 30–43. 156 FM 1:231, line 7694; AS line 6947. 157 This term, whose meaning is easy enough to surmise, was in usage in both the US and UK in the early twentieth century. More specifically, since Waddell refers to H. G. Wells elsewhere (see n. 146 above), she may well have picked it up from his novel The New Machiavelli (London: Lane, Bodley Head, 1911), an autobiographical novel written roman-à-clef style in the first person about a famously scandalous love affair (based on Wells’s with Amber Reeves) in which Wells also satirizes certain prominent self-righteous contemporaries. One of its hero’s Cambridge chums, a certain Hatherleigh, uses the term contemptuously to characterize typical Cambridge students who were afraid of life (see The New Machiavelli, Book I, chap. 4.2). See also G. A. Connes, A Dictionary of the Characters and Scenes in Novels, Romances and Short Stories of H. G. Wells (Dijon: M. Darantière, 1926; reprint, New York: Haskell House, 1971), 361. In using the term the way she does, 154 FM


Studies in Medievalism

I do not know what to say of him save this – I/ do not like him. It may be unjust, but in spite/ of all his philosophy the taste left by his/ precious Roman is not savoury. I had rather/ read the English Drama from start to finish than/ go through him again. It is Meredith’s reasoning,/ “that pure faith is always preferable to cynical licentiousness.”158 Jean de Meun may enlist himself in the war/ with Death as Nature’s champion: the fact remains/ that he writes himself a cynic and a libertine. Page 42 And yet even Jean has sensed the freshness of the/ morning when the little maids go gathering flowers. – “les délitables floretes Qui là naissent fresches et nettes, Qui [FM = que] cuillent au printems puceles, Tant sunt fresches, tant sunt noveles, Cum esteles reflamboians Par les herbetes verdoians Au matinet à la rouse [FM rousée].”159 and the sun in his lover’s paradise is a sun that/ never dries the dew. Fresh are the flowers in the/ evening as in the morning –160 “Ne trop close ne trop ouvertes.”161 and such is the marvellous virtue of the place that/ the “l’estroite sente estrie”162 [FM = serie] is ever grassy and/ flower besprinkled, though trodden by countless feet.163 After all, is it to be a case of – Requiescat. Page 43 Roman de la Rose Waddell distances herself from such prudes while expressing her dislike of Jean de Meun, much as we have to separate Christine de Pizan from the bas-bleus (pace Gustave Lanson’s derision of her, Histoire, 166–67). It also layers another controversial love-affair into Waddell’s consciousness, along with that of Abelard and others mentioned in Jean’s Rose – and the obverse of her own with Otto Kyllmann (see, for example, Corrigan, Waddell, 263). 158 George Meredith, Essay on Comedy (Westminster: Constable, 1903), 11. 159 FM 2:292–93, lines 20883–89; AS lines 19955–61. 160 FM 2:293, lines 20892–95; AS lines 19964–67. 161 FM 2:293, line 20898; AS line 19970. 162 FM 2:292, line 20874; AS line 19946. 163 FM 2:292, lines 20875–76; AS lines 19947–48. HW has erred here, the grass is little trodden (“poi marchié”).

 A Transcription of Helen Waddell’s Notes  241

Guillaume de Lorris: c. 123- [= 1223?] Jean de Meung. 1277. Pages 44–45 are blank Page 46 Christine de Pisan l’Epitre au Dieu d’Amours. (Mai, 1399)164 “L’homme se dénature”165 who speaks ill of a/ woman – “Car tout homme doit avoir le cuer tendre Envers femme qui à tout homme est mère.”166 After all, Dan Cupid has the best way of it. – Let the clerks say what they will – “de ce sont folz et perdent leur peine Car entre moi et ma dame Nature Ne souffrerons, tant com le monde dure, Que chéries et aimées ne soient Maugré touz ceulz qui blasmer les vouldroient.167 ——— Christine is perhaps naturally biassed. She is/ best when she is caustic: her praise is somePage 47 thing perfervid. She refers to the enormous siege works of/ the Roman – wherefore so great a battery168 for/ a fort so easily stormed? Jean doubtless speaks of the women with/ whom he is best acquent – and he who goes/ out to deceive, shall he not be deceived? ——— 164 Roy,

Œuvres, 2:1–27. Waddell’s perusal of the Epistre au Dieu d’Amours (an epistle in verse that just precedes the prose epistolary Debate on the Rose, with which it is closely associated) would have revealed to her that Christine was a vigorous opponent of Jean de Meun. In addition to the Roy edition, see Poems of Cupid, God of Love, ed. Thelma S. Fenster and Mary Carpenter Erler (Leiden: Brill, 1990). This contains (inter alia) editions and translations into English of the Epistre (33–89) and (90–155) Dit de la Rose (as Letter of the God of Love and Tale of the Rose, respectively). 165 Roy, Œuvres, 2:7, lines 181–82. 166 Roy, Œuvres, 2:6, lines 168–69. 167 Roy, Œuvres, 2:10, lines 295, 297–300. 168 Roy Œuvres, 2:13, line 400.


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Note that the exquisite edition for present/ation is to Queen Isabella of Bavaria;169 afterwards became “Henry, Duke of Newcastle his book” – ­possibly a favourite with the brilliant Duchess.170 ——— Boucicaut (maréchal) s’associa même si comp/letement aux sentiments de Christine/ qu’il fonda le jour de Pâques fleuris [sic] (11 Ap. 1400)/ 1399 sous le nom de “l’écu verd à la dame blanche”, un ordre de chevalerie Page 48 pour la defense des dames.171 “Le Dit de la Rose”172 is very dainty. […] Page 185 Puis que vous vous en alez Je ne vous sçay plus que dire, M’amour, mais en grief martire 169 The

Queen’s Manuscript, London, British Library MS Harley 4431. has extracted this information from Roy, Œuvres, 1:xii. On the owners of The Queen’s Manuscript, see Gilbert Ouy, Christine Reno, Inès Villela-Petit, Album Christine de Pizan (Turnhout: Brepols, 2012), 319–20. The signature of Henry Cavendish, Second Duke of Newcastle (1630–91), appears on the recto of folio 1 of BL Harley 4431: “Henry Duke of Newcastle his booke 1676.” His wife, the Duchess of Newcastle, was Frances Pierrepont (1630–95). One is tempted to speculate that Waddell may have confused the First and Second Duchesses. Her use of the word “brilliant” more appropriately characterizes the more famous Margaret Cavendish, née Lucas (1623–73), First Duchess of Newcastle, second wife of William Cavendish, First Duke of Newcastle, and prolific writer of plays, poetry, philosophy, and science; like Christine and Waddell, she addressed gender issues. She had, however, no aptitude for foreign languages and would not have been able to access the content of the Queen’s Manuscript, in any case not acquired by the Second Duke until 1676. On Margaret Cavendish, see Paper Bodies: A Margaret Cavendish Reader, ed. Sylvia Bowerbank and Sara Mendelson (Peterborough, Ont. and Orchard Park, NY: Broadview Press, 2000). On the Cavendishes, see Memoirs of William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle, and Margaret his Wife, ed. C. H. Firth (London: Routledge, 1909), 116; Douglas Grant, Margaret the First (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1957), 151, 175. 171 Waddell has reproduced this imperfectly from Roy, Œuvres, 2:iv. 172 Roy, Œuvres, 2:29–48. Like the Epistre au Dieu d’Amours, Christine’s verse Dit de la Rose (1402) is closely linked to the documents of the prose Debate. The poem ends with the institution of the Order of the Rose, whose purpose, like Boucicaut’s, is to combat the misogyny of writers such as Jean de Meun. See also Poems of Cupid, ed. Fenster and Erler, 90–155. 170 Waddell

 A Transcription of Helen Waddell’s Notes  243

Me tendrez, se vous voulez. Ne sçay si vous en doulez Mais nul mal n’est du mien pire, Puis que vous vous en alez Baisiez moi et m’acolez. Pour Dieu, vueilliez moy rescripre, Et du mal soiez le mire, Dont le mien cuer affolez Puisque vous vous en alez.173 Page 186 Because that you are going away, Still may you hold me in sore rue, My lady, if it pleases you, And Than morethethan I this know I not cannot what tosay, say, know not to say, Nor if it maketh you less gay

Nor know if it grieveth you Nor know if you will go less gay, But Because that you are going away Because that you are going away, Still may you keep me in my grief, My lady, I that you had lief, And more than this I cannot say, Nor know if you will go less gay, But of my sorrow this is chief, Because that you are going away.174

173 Rondeau

8, Roy, Œuvres, 1:151–52. a discussion of this rondeau, including the translation skills it demonstrates, see Kennedy and Margolis, “Debate on the Rose Rekindled.” Given its proximity to drafts of Lyrics from the Chinese in the Notebook, it is likely that the Christine extract is part of the “disinfectant” that Waddell sought after reading Jean de Meun’s Rose (see FitzGerald, Helen Waddell and Maude Clarke, 53). While the choice of poem may have been random, its themes of parting and sorrow are emblematic of Waddell’s “lost decade” in Belfast (1912–20): two of her brothers died in rapid succession, in 1914 and 1915, and for long periods she was separated from her friend Maude Clarke, who moved to Oxford in 1914.

174 For

Contributors CARLA ARNELL is Associate Professor and Chair of English at Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, IL, where she teaches courses in the history of the novel and medieval literature. Her essays have appeared in Christianity and Literature, Renascence, Modern Language Review, Pedagogy, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and The Hedgehog Review blog, among other places. AIDA AUDEH, Professor of Art History at Hamline University, is a frequent contributor to Studies in Medievalism and an expert on nineteenth-century European artists’ use of Dante and his writing as source and inspiration for works of art. She is the author of several articles, which have appeared in such journals as Dante Studies, Nineteenth-Century Contexts, and Annali d’Italianistica. Her book Dante in the Long Nineteenth Century: Nationality, Identity, and Appropriation was published in 2012, and her chapter on teaching Dante and the visual arts is forthcoming in the new edition of the MLA’s Approaches to Teaching Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” edited by Christopher Kleinhenz and Kristina Olson. PETER BURKHOLDER is Professor of History at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ, where he also served as Founding Chair of the Faculty Teaching Development Program from 2010–17. The recipient of numerous institutional and professional awards, Burkholder has produced medieval film-related scholarship on warfare, child soldiers, weaponry, and the teaching of the cinematic Middle Ages. His pedagogical research has been recognized by the American Historical Association and Faculty Focus. Burkholder serves on the national advisory board of the Society for History Education, is on the editorial board of The Teaching Professor, and is a consulting editor for College Teaching. CHRISTOPHER CALDIERO (PhD, Rutgers University) is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ. His research interests include crisis communication, organizational communication, and rhetorical analysis. His work has appeared in the Journal of Public Relations Research, the American Journal of Communication, and Public Relations Review. In December 2015 he published his first book, Neo-PR: Public Relations in a Postmodern World. Studies in Medievalism XXIX, 2019


Studies in Medievalism

MICHAEL EVANS is an instructor in History in the Social Sciences Division at Delta College, MI. His research interests include medieval king/queenship, the crusades, the Robin Hood legend, race and medievalism, and medievalism in social media. He is the author of The Death of Kings: Representations of Royal Death in Medieval England (2003) and Inventing Eleanor: The Medieval and Post-Medieval Image of Eleanor of Aquitaine (2014) as well as many published articles on medieval history and medievalism. He is an assistant editor for the ISSM online review journal Medievally Speaking. JENNIFER FITZGERALD taught in the School of English, Queen’s University Belfast, from 1975 to 2002 and is currently affiliated with the Department of Women’s Studies, San Diego State University. She has published several biographical and critical essays on Helen Waddell, as well as Helen Waddell and Maude Clarke: Irishwomen, Friends and Scholars (2012), and edited and contributed to Helen Waddell Reassessed (2014). She is preparing an annotated edition of Waddell’s Peter Abelard (1933) with Constant Mews, Monash University, Melbourne, and has recently self-published an edition of the unpublished novel Discipline (composed 1916) by Helen Waddell and Maude Clarke. JONATHAN GODSALL is Teaching Fellow in Music at Royal Holloway, University of London. A musicologist with particular interests in music and screen media, musical intertextuality, and musical reception, he was awarded his PhD from the University of Bristol in 2014. He is the author of Reeled In: Pre-existing Music in Narrative Film (2019), as well as of articles and chapters in journals and edited books. He has also taught music at the University of Cambridge, the University of Bristol, Oxford Brookes University, Keele University, Plymouth University, and City, University of London. ANGUS J. KENNEDY is Emeritus Stevenson Professor of French at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and a specialist in Christine de Pizan and fifteenth-century humanism. His publications include three volumes of analytical bibliography of Christine (1984, 1994, 2004), editions of her works: Ditié de Jehanne d’Arc (1977, 2003), Lamentacion sur les maux de la France (1980), Epistre de la prison de vie humaine (1984), Epistre à la reine (1988), and Livre du corps de policie (1998). For services to French culture, he was created Officier (1991) et Commandeur (2001) dans les Palmes académiques, and Chevalier dans les Arts et Lettres (2004). NADIA MARGOLIS, having taught French language and literature at various institutions in the US, recently retired from teaching French and Medieval Studies at Mount Holyoke College. Her research has been mainly devoted to Christine de Pizan and Joan of Arc. Her publications include Joan

 Contributors  247

of Arc in History, Literature and Film: A Select Bibliography (1990), Women in the Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia (co-editor, 2004), and An Introduction to Christine de Pizan (2011), together with numerous lectures, articles, and translations, including a chapter on teaching Christine’s Ditié de Jehanne d’Arc for the MLA volume Approaches to Teaching Christine de Pizan (2018), ed. Andrea Tarnowski. LAURYN MAYER is Professor of English at Washington and Jefferson College, where she teaches courses on medieval and medievalist literature, literary theory, and popular fiction. Her first book, Worlds Made Flesh: Chronicle Histories and Medieval Manuscript Culture (2001), created a critical vocabulary for reading across multiple manuscripts. She is a frequent contributor to Studies in Medievalism. Her current research focuses on early modern use of medieval chronicle material. TIMOTHY S. MILLER, since completing his PhD in English at the University of Notre Dame, has taught both medieval literature and contemporary science-fiction at Sarah Lawrence College and Mercy College. He has published widely on Chaucer and his reception, and he is currently working on a longer project examining the representation of plants and vegetal modes of being in later Middle English literature, tentatively titled Hidden Life: Seeing Medieval Plants. TISON PUGH is a professor in the Department of English at the University of Central Florida. His books in medievalism include Queer Chivalry: Medievalism and the Myth of White Masculinity in Southern Literature (2013) and, with Angela Jane Weisl, Medievalisms: Making the Past in the Present (2013). His edited collections include Chaucer on Screen: Absence, Presence, and Adapting the Canterbury Tales (2016), with Kathleen Coyne Kelly; The Disney Middle Ages: A Fairy-Tale and Fantasy Past (2012), with Susan Aronstein; and Race, Class, and Gender in “Medieval” Cinema (2007), with Lynn Ramey. RICHARD UTZ is Chair and Professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He succeeded Leslie J. Workman and Tom Shippey as the third President of the International Society for the Study of Medievalism, and currently serves as editor of Medievally Speaking and The Year’s Work in Medievalism. In 2017 he published Medievalism: A Manifesto, in which he challenges his colleagues to reconnect with the general public that has allowed medievalists to become, since the late nineteenth century, a rather exclusive clan of specialists who communicate mostly with each other.


Studies in Medievalism

KIM WILKINS is an associate professor in the School of Communication and Arts at the University of Queensland, where she runs the postgraduate Writing, Editing, and Publishing program. Her research is interested in popular fantasy narratives. She has published on memes, videogames, and popular fiction. She is also an author of thirty books of fantasy and women’s fiction, under two names, published in twenty languages. She currently leads a large Australian Research Council grant on Australian popular fiction. KAREN A. WINSTEAD is Professor of English at The Ohio State University, where she teaches medieval literature as well as film and popular culture. She is the author of Virgin Martyrs: Legends of Sainthood in Late Medieval England (1997), John Capgrave’s Fifteenth Century (2007), and The Oxford History of Life-Writing, Vol. 1: The Middle Ages (2018). She has edited and translated a collection of Middle English virgin martyr legends, Chaste Passions (2000), as well as Capgrave’s Life of Saint Katherine (1999). HELEN YOUNG is a Lecturer in Literary Studies at Deakin University, Australia. Her current research explores the entanglements of medievalism and race-thinking in European and settler colonial white racial formations from the late eighteenth century to the present. She is a frequent contributor to Studies in Medievalism and The Year’s Work in Medievalism. Her most recent book, Race and Popular Fantasy Literature: Habits of Whiteness, was published in 2016. She has an article, co-authored with Dr. Stephanie Downes, exploring the influence of Pre-Raphaelite aesthetics on constructions of white femininity in HBO’s Game of Thrones forthcoming in postmedieval.

Previously published volumes Details of earlier titles are available from the publisher XIV. Correspondences: Medievalism in Scholarship and the Arts Edited by Tom Shippey and Martin Arnold. 2005 XV. Memory and Medievalism Edited by Karl Fugelso. 2006 XVI. Medievalism in Technology Old and New Edited by Karl Fugelso with Carol L. Robinson. 2007 XVII. Defining Medievalism(s) Edited by Karl Fugelso. 2009 XVIII. Defining Medievalism(s) II Edited by Karl Fugelso. 2010 XIX. Defining Neomedievalism(s) Edited by Karl Fugelso. 2010 XX. Defining Neomedievalism(s) II Edited by Karl Fugelso. 2011 XXI. Corporate Medievalism Edited by Karl Fugelso. 2012 XXII. Corporate Medievalism II Edited by Karl Fugelso. 2013 XXIII. Ethics and Medievalism Edited by Karl Fugelso. 2014 XXIV. Medievalism on the Margins Edited by Karl Fugelso with Vincent Ferré and Alicia C. Montoya. 2015 XXV. Medievalism and Modernity Edited by Karl Fugelso with Joshua Davies and Sarah Salih. 2016 XXVI. Ecomedievalism Edited by Karl Fugelso. 2017 XXVII. Authenticity, Medievalism, Music Edited by Karl Fugelso. 2018

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Medievalism and Discrimination

Studies in Medievalism XXVIII

Discrimination has long played a part in medievalism studies, but it has rarely been weaponized as thoroughly and publicly as in recent exchanges. The essays in the first part of this volume respond to that development by examining some of the many forms discrimination has taken in medievalism (studies) relative to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and ethnicity. These papers thus inform many of the subsequent chapters, which address a wide variety of aspects of medievalism, showing how many cultural areas it touches upon. Subjects include Evelyn Underhill’s literary interest in the Arts and Crafts Movement; the Anchoresses of the filmmaker Chris Newby and novelist Robyn Cadwallader; cinematic battle orations; contemporary representations of Viking helmet horns; modern board-game culture; and Vincent Van Gogh’s Studio of the South. The volume also includes a transcription and contextualization of the celebrated scholar Helen Waddell’s notes on medieval texts.


KARL FUGELSO is Professor of Art History at Towson University.


Studies in Medievalism XXVIII Medievalism and Discrimination an imprint of Boydell & Brewer Ltd PO Box 9, Woodbridge IP12 3DF (GB) and 668 Mt Hope Ave, Rochester NY14620-2731 (US)