Readings of the Man of Law's Tale frequently impugn its narrator for his mercantile attitude. In the tale's prologue, the Man of Law indulges both in an enthusiastic encomium dedicated to merchants and their wealth, and in a lengthy rant against poverty. Such speeches seem wildly inappropriate for a tale that is, ostensibly, about a woman's patient tolerance of penury. Scholars argue that, due to his preoccupation with wealth and commerce, the Man of Law fails to grasp the deeper spiritual significance of the story that he tells. Instead, he ends up converting everyone and everything in the world of the story into commodities, from Custance to Christ's providence. Even stories become commodities for the Man of Law, commodities that are in limited supply and that possess a range of values. Those stories that are new (or at least appear new to a particular audience) have the most value in the literary marketplace. The Man of Law worries that these valuable stories are in short supply because Chaucer, albeit ‘lewedly’, has told them all. The idea of storytelling as a zero-sum game, in which valuable stories are instantly devalued because they are alreadytold stories, runs counter to most of our working assumptions about the production of medieval narrative, in which ‘the important thing is not the originality of the basic story, but rather the artist's execution of it’.
In contrast to his narrator, Chaucer often is viewed as a more sophisticated storyteller, one who understands the roles of intertextuality and influence in narrative production. For such a reading to succeed, a certain philosophical distance between Chaucer and the Man of Law is required. One of the most effective ways to create such a distance, as A. C. Spearing has argued, is by reading the Canterbury Tales dramatically, through the lens of their narrators. The long tradition of dramatic reading produces much of the irony that scholars locate in the Tales. It also makes possible the ‘discarding [of] anything found disagreeable by a modern reader as the responsibility not of Chaucer but of the fictional teller’. But in the case of the Man of Law's approach to storytelling, what is so ‘disagreeable’ that it necessitates protecting Chaucer from his narrator's associative voice?
Rolle, Friendship, and Performance
The hermit-mystic Richard Rolle (c.1300–1349), one of the most prolific authors of the fourteenth century in England, seems initially an odd figure for a treatment of friendship. The facts of Rolle's life suggest one for whom literal solitude was the sine qua non of contemplation, one who did not get along with others, and one who considered people at best impediments to the spiritual life (Incendium amoris, p. 257, lines 8–10), at worst carnal temptations (p. 172, lines 18–19). Rolle fears the pleasure that derives from sociability but can sometimes be disenchanted by friendship tout court; he writes that his worst detractors were once his most trusted friends. Problematizing thirty years of scholarship on medieval solitaries’ busy social lives, Rolle pointedly affirms his rationale for solitude: ‘Ego enim in solitudinem fugi quia cum hominibus concordare non potui’ (‘I fled into solitude because I could not get along with people’, p. 220, lines 34–5).
Nonetheless, Rolle is deeply interested in friendship and community, even in his most self-concerned writing. Rolle lived during a time when many hermit-mystics would have been inveterately social. Bernard McGinn argues for the communal, ecclesiological nature of mysticism, even if Rolle does not always conform to this model. And Jonathan Hughes demonstrates that fourteenth-century hermits in Yorkshire like Rolle had intimate connections, however problematic, with their lay patrons, often influencing lay piety, devotion, and readership. Rolle wrote endearing English treatises of spiritual guidance for religious women, and in his role of mentor developed a spiritual friendship with one of them, an anchoress named Margaret Kirkeby. But I do not wish to argue (as have some valuable studies of friendship for medieval coenobites and solitaries) that Rolle ‘had’ a friend; this essay examines, more broadly, Rolle's rhetoric of friendship and, specifically, his textual construction of friendship as a spiritual phantasm that enables contemplation to proceed to fruition.
In Rolle's Incendium amoris (The Fire of Love), an early work pivotal to the development of his authorial career, ideas of performed friendship and community structure his mysticism. I first demonstrate that solitude is communal for Rolle; he requires the strictest solitude only to imagine his liturgically oriented participation in a celestial, canorous community, enabled through affect.
BESIDES THE CANZONIERE, Petrarch's other significant poetic work in the vernacular was his six-part Triumphi, written in formal imitation of Dante's Commedia, that is, borrowing the earlier poet's interlocking tripartite rhyme scheme known as terza rima. Each Triumph depicts the victory of a particular abstract concept, although the trappings of chariots and processions fade away as the work proceeds. The Triumphi are in ascending order of potency, with Latin titles as follows: the Triumphus Cupidinis, Triumphus Pudicitie, Triumphus Mortis, Triumphus Fame, Triumphus Temporis, and the Triumphus Eternitatis. Essentially, the poem thus follows a sequence of encounters with and meditations on each concept, namely Love, Chastity, Death, Fame, Time, and Eternity, with each in turn defeating and overturning the former. Moreover, the final triumph is in direct conflict with the close of the Canzoniere. The Canzoniere concludes in RVF 366 with a repudiation of Laura as Medusa (a petrifying, spiritually deadening figure) and an invocation of the Virgin Mary, suggesting the possibility of some sort of conversion on the part of the poet–protagonist at the end of the work from Eros to Caritas. In contrast, the Triumphus Eternitatis reinstates Laura, ending with the whole of Paradise desiring to see Laura's resurrected body. The relationship between the Canzoniere and the Triumphi can be further refined through attention to late-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French translators of the Triumphi. Again, decisions as to what to include where and under what title reveal more deep-rooted attitudes towards the Triumphi deducible from such material.
As with the Triumphi, no Latin work by Petrarch comes close to rivalling the number of translations of and from the Canzoniere into French produced in the nineteenth century. Moreover, the choice of texts from the Latin works often reflects similar motivations to the selections made by translators faced with Petrarch's vernacular poetry. That is, the choice of Latin works, like the decisions made in producing incomplete translations of the Canzoniere and/or the Triumphi, typically reveals an overriding interest in understanding and presenting Petrarch above all as an autobiographical love poet.
Complete Translations of the Triumphi
Perhaps surprisingly, there are marginally more complete translations of the Triumphi in this period than there are of the Canzoniere: seven of the first, and only five of the latter (six, if Godefroy's intentions rather than actions are taken into consideration).
At some time around 1348, the Yorkshire hermit Richard Rolle added to his already extensive oeuvre of religious writing in Latin and English a complete English translation of and a commentary on the Psalms. A prefatory poem appended to Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud misc. 286, fol. 1r-v, an early fifteenth-century copy, states that the English Psalter, as modern critics refer to the work, was written for Rolle's spiritual protégé, Margaret Kirkby. The work involved providing the Latin text, usually appearing in the manuscripts in a larger, more formal script, then a vernacular translation after each verse, often distinguished by underlining, followed by an explanatory gloss. Containing Latin and English texts as well as English explication, the English Psalterseems to have been intended as a devotional aid for her and other unlettered solitaries, designed so ‘that they that knawes noght latyn, by the ynglis may com til mony latyn wordis’, as Rolle himself states in his prologue to the work. We know that he expected a wider circulation, as the prologue also contains preemptively defensive remarks directed at the ‘enuyous’ men whom he expects will question the authority of his doctrinal knowledge (p. 5), but he could not have anticipated the ultimate fortunes of his work. Several decades after his death in 1349, the English Psalterwas taken up by a group of revisers who held Wycliffite views, who produced three successive recensions, known as RV1, RV2 and RV3. While the popularity of the work is clear — some fifty manuscripts of the work survive in one version or another — this broad circulation represents a complex history of reception, revision and dialogue more than it attests to univocal acclaim.
This chapter will focus primarily on what evidence suggests is a relatively early part of that reception by discussing aspects of the Wycliffite revisions before turning to later evidence of the text's fortunes after these interventions. This late fourteenth- and early fifteenth-century transmission occurred within a complex cultural field in which the possibilities of vernacular scripture and its interpretation became a politically-freighted subject of experimentation and debate. Rolle's English Psalterand its revisions form a distinctive part of this history in part because they represented forms not solely of vernacular scripture, but also of vernacular scriptural commentary — of interpretive apparatuses in English that might guide vernacular reading.
This volume explores the diverse ways in which the Book of Psalms profoundly influenced medieval English literature and culture, through a series of connected overviews and special case studies. A number of recent studies have highlighted the Psalter's reception in Early Modern English (and wider European culture), while three monographs by contributors to this volume offer focused studies of the Psalter in individual periods of medieval English literature: Jane Toswell's The Anglo-Saxon Psalter, Annie Sutherland's English Psalms in the Middle Ages: 1300–1450and Michael P. Kuczynski's Prophetic Song: The Psalms as Moral Discourse in Late Medieval England. But as yet no single study has sought to offer a comprehensive survey of English responses to the Book of Psalms from the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to the cusp of the Reformation. By bringing work by experts on both Old and Middle English literature into dialogue, this volume breaks down the traditional disciplinary binaries of pre- and post-Conquest English, late medieval and Early Modern, as well as emphasizing the complex and fascinating relationship between Latin and the vernacular languages of England. In order to encourage the reader to make connections both across and within these various periods and languages, the book is arranged thematically rather than chronologically, with three sections designed to offer a variety of perspectives on the Psalms and medieval English literature.
Section I (Translation) focuses on the development of English psalm translation from its beginnings in Old English interlinear glosses in Latin psalters through the multilingual psalters of the Anglo-Norman era to the stand-alone vernacular psalters of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Concentrating on the Psalter as a book, this section charts the emergence of English as a scriptural language in the medieval period.
Section II (Adaptation) considers how medieval English prose and verse writers draw on the Psalms as a source of literary inspiration. Demonstrating how the Psalter could be adapted and redeployed within the context of medieval worship and prayer, it begins with a discussion of the first adaptation of the entire Psalter into English verse, before turning to a consideration of the development of the abbreviated psalter tradition. This section also addresses the wider influence of psalmic language and imagery on Old English praise and lament poetry, and on Middle English alliterative verse.
The Eadwine Psalter, produced at Canterbury in the 1150s, is important, among many other reasons, because it contains the only translation of the Psalms into English copied between 1100 and 1300, between the Salisbury Psalter, glossed at Shaftesbury in Dorset, and the Surtees Psalter, a metrical translation composed in Yorkshire around 1300. The critical reception of this English gloss can be seen as a lightning rod for changing attitudes to twelfth-century English more generally, with longstanding complaints about its inaccuracy, inconsistency and probable incomprehensibility to its initial readership replaced by revisionist views asserting its ready intelligibility. This chapter treads a middle way between these two extremes, arguing that the gloss vacillates between archaic and contemporary modes and that this reflects a wider mid-twelfthcentury conflict about how English could best function as a literary language.
The English Gloss
The Eadwine Psalter, now Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R. 17. 1, is one of the most lavish manuscripts to survive from twelfth-century Britain. It weighs nearly thirteen kilograms and, open, occupies almost one third of a square metre; each bifolium was formed from the skin of a single animal. It contains the work of at least seventeen scribes and five or more artists, all apparently working at Christ Church, Canterbury around 1150. The cost of its production must have been vast, but its patronage remains unknown. The most natural comparanda are deluxe twelfth-century books like the St Albans Psalter and the Bury Bible. The ambition of the project is also evident in the manuscript' contents. The psalter proper was originally prefixed by a calendar and an eightleaf pictorial cycle of episodes from the Old and New Testaments. In addition to the Psalms, the psalter contains Canticles 1–15 and the apocryphal Psalm 151. Each psalm is preceded by a scholastic prologue, illustrated with a miniature and headed with a titulus; beneath is the text in the Hebraicum, Romanum and Gallicanum versions in three parallel columns. The Hebraicum is glossed in Anglo-Norman, the Romanum in English, and the Gallicanum with the Parva glosatura attributed to Anselm of Laon. Each psalm then concludes with a collect.
The English gloss to the Romanum, the principal focus of this essay, was, until recently, almost universally derided. Merritt characterized its glosses as ‘among the most inaccurate in Old English’, while Kuhn called the finished product ‘a remarkable linguistic gallimaufry’.
And if that ich, at Loves reverence,
Have any word in eched for the beste,
Doth therwithal right as yourselven leste.
Accounts of Middle English psalms tend to begin with Richard Rolle's midfourteenth- century vernacular Psalter and commentary. Such an emphasis is justifiable; Rolle's English Psalter circulated very widely, reaching a varied and receptive audience. There are, however, other extant Middle English translations of the complete Book of Psalms that have been overshadowed by Rolle' rendition. Not least among these is the anonymous fourteenth-century Prose Psalter, composed around the same time as Rolle's mid-century Psalter, or perhaps slightly earlier. Extant in four manuscripts, the Prose Psalter clearly had a much more limited circulation than Rolle's text, which survives in more or less complete form in nineteen manuscripts as well as in (a) Wycliffite interpolated version(s) in several further volumes. Nonetheless, codicological evidence suggests that the Prose Psalter was a significant text in fourteenth-century London literary culture, apparently read by audiences eager for catechetic, devotional and biblical material in an accessible vernacular. Additionally, its status as a translation of an Anglo-Norman glossed psalter offers new insights into influences on Middle English biblical culture. Further, its very particular rendition of the Psalms, in which vernacularization and gloss are combined, raises fresh questions about the perceived role of the medieval translator and the nature of biblical translation in English.
The earliest of the four manuscripts of the Prose Psalter is probably London, British Library, Additional MS 17376, dated by Ralph Hanna to c. 1330–70.6 Containing the Psalter, as well as the Eleven Old Testament Canticles and the Athanasian Creed, the manuscript also houses a selection of Latin material suitable for the use of a parish priest (also preserved separately) and concludes with seven poems attributed to William of Shoreham, extant in this manuscript alone. The poems of Shoreham, vicar of Chart-Sutton in Kent, cover areas of basic doctrine and catechesis (including the Seven Sacraments, the Hours of the Cross, the Ten Commandments, the Seven Deadly Sins and the Five Joys of the Virgin) and their suitability as companions to the Prose Psalter will be discussed later in this chapter.
And Piers for pure tene pulled it [asonder]
And seide, 'Si ambulauero in medio vmbre mortis Non timebo mala quoniam tu mecum es.
I shal cessen of my sowyng‘, quod Piers, ’& swynke noȝt so harde,
Ne aboute my [bilyue] so bisy be na moore;
Of preieres and of penaunce my plouȝ shal ben herafter,
And wepen whan I sholde [werche] ϸouȝ whete breed me faille.
In the B-text of Piers Plowman, the Psalms are part of a dramatic juncture of conversion, as Langland's ploughman tears Truth's pardon in vexation, in one of the poem's most enigmatic and powerful moments. The ploughing of the half-acre which has occupied the poem for the last two passus, and which had seemed to be an act of communal labour which promised a way to ‘Truth’, is now abandoned and replaced with a ‘recheless’ alternative labour of penance inspired by a psalm image. Piers ‘voices’ Psalm 22.4 directly in Latin and then promises to imitate the penitential activity of Psalm 41.4, changing a concern with communal sustenance to a work of weeping personal contrition. He is not to return to the poem for over 3000 lines, as the explicator of the Tree of Charity during Will's ‘louedreem’ in passus16 (B16.20).
In this passage the Psalms are dynamic, active texts. In the words of a central work of scholarship on their appearance in Middle English writing, they are a kind of ‘prophetic song’, a powerful moral discourse that found both authority and penitential template in David's words and which joined ‘private’ penitential anguish with strident public and prophetic discourse. This image of the Psalms as used in Middle English writing brings with it an interest in a highly politicized, emotive and imitative use of psalm texts.
This essay does not focus on this commanding, vatic idea of psalm use. Instead, it redirects our attention towards the very mediated and exegetical way in which psalms are more regularly used in Middle English alliterative poetry. I follow the appearance of a small number of psalm texts (predominantly Psalms 14 and 23) as they occur in some Middle English poems. An important aspect of this analysis regards the process of rendering Vulgate text into Middle English verse, a process that, as Michael Kuczynski suggests, often blurs the practices of citation, translation, exegesis and paraphrase.
An air of anomaly lingers about Eleanor Hull. There is one manuscript only, Cambridge, University Library, MS Kk. I. 6, containing her commentary on the Penitential Psalms and the meditations on the days of the week, together with other devotional texts and religious poems by Lydgate. We would have been slow to attribute the psalm commentary to a woman author were it not for the explicit in the manuscript by Richard Fox, Steward of St Alban': ‘Here endeth the vij Psalmus the wheche Dame Alyanore Hulle transelated out of Frensche into Englesche’. Thanks to Alexandra Barratt, we have not only an excellent edition of the psalms commentary but also a good deal of information about Hull's life: daughter of one retainer of John of Gaunt, she married another, served Queen Joan of Navarre, widow of Henry IV, and was admitted to the confraternity of St Albans in 1417. She probably retired after her husband' death in 1421 to the priory of the Benedictine nuns at Sopwell, where she knew the learned priest and lawyer Roger Huswyf, who was to serve as her executor. Born in the 1390s, she died in 1460. She thus had impeccably Lancastrian credentials and has been read as a poster child for post-Arundel orthodoxy. Although Barratt rightly promoted Hull's work in the context of ‘medieval women writers’, it was for a while as if Hull was the wrong type of woman: neither a visionary nor a Lollard. There is also a problem of sources. While one has been found for the meditations on the days of the week, no French or Anglo-Norman original has yet been identified for her psalm commentary — which, in any case, is full of identifiable citation and reference to other commentaries, especially Augustine and Peter Lombard. In Psalm 6, for example, she combines Lombard's interest in title and genre with Augustine' emphasis on the eighth day of Judgement. This is a challenge to our reading skills. At what points do we think we hear Hull's voice? Once we think we have, how do we value her part? Barratt makes both a minor case — for Hull as a ‘competent’ translator — and a major one for her psalm commentary as ‘one of the most sustained examples of scriptural exegesis in English’.
The Wycliffite Bible was the first complete translation of the Vulgate in English, produced at the end of the fourteenth century by the followers of the Oxford theologian John Wyclif. The translation was condemned and banned within twenty-five years of its appearance but nevertheless became the most widely disseminated medieval English text — it survives in around 250 complete and partial copies. The Wycliffite Bible includes one of several surviving Middle English versions of the complete Psalter. The present chapter focuses on two aspects of the Wycliffite Psalms: their circulation and audience, and translation techniques evident in two surviving redactions of their text. These aspects are almost certainly interconnected: a remarkably liturgical character of the manuscripts of the Wycliffite Bible suggests their use by the clergy. A highly literal nature of both versions of the translation, the scholarly apparatus that accompanies them in manuscripts and a desire for precision evident in their language all indicate that they would have appealed to the learned. Earlier discussions of the translators’ care to render Latin grammatical constructions correctly, manifest in the biblical text and its analysis in the General Prologue to the Wycliffite Bible, are supplemented here for the first time by a discussion of efforts to establish appropriate vernacular biblical vocabulary. This aspect of the translators’ work, not mentioned by the author of the prologue and largely overlooked in previous scholarship, must have been, as shown below, a major part of the revision from the Earlier (EV) to the Later Version (LV) of the Bible. All this sheds a new light on the Wycliffite translation: whereas earlier scholarship assumed its popular nature because of its status as a vernacular text and polemical statements by Wycliffite authors about broadening access to Bible, the current discussion draws attention to professionalism in both its execution and likely use.
Circulation and Audience
The Book of Psalms was better known in the Middle Ages and more widely circulated than any other biblical book, not only because of the high regard for its theological, poetic and instructional value, but also because of its exceptional importance in liturgy. The Rule of St Benedict, which formed the basis of the rules of most medieval religious orders, obliged monks and nuns to recite all 150 Psalms in the course of each week.
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