Leeds Report #7, or, more fun with Middle English

Lest I turn into the inestimable Jon Jarrett and wind up posting recaps six months or more after the conference in question… on with the recaps!

Because I have my priorities straight, I’ve already reported on one paper from session 1314,  ‘English Romance, Nation, and (Obscene) Scribal Innovation’: it had speculations on the sex lives of bishops.

You might be interested to know that the rest of that session was interesting and intriguing, too!

Medieval - a woman readingFirst, Michael Johnston talked about The Circulation of Middle English Romance.

  • He began by talking about increase in book production in London in the late 14th century, where, he noted, romance was largely left out of the flourishing literary culture. London manuscripts  exhibit a continuity of format, style, and genre, and they’re just not so fond of romance. This was demonstrated with reference to several Chaucer and Langland MSS.
  • A number of romance manuscripts, on the other hand, have strong ties to particular provincial households. Johnston presented several examples of particular traceable manuscripts. Then, drawing on similar data to that which Gareth Griffith was using in his paper, he talked about the general presentation of romance manuscripts, and noted that those which come with fancy script and decoration usually contain more ‘elevated’ genres (typical of London book production) in addition.
  • Why is romance not favoured by London book producers and/or buyers? Johnston wants to know; he didn’t have concrete answers for that at this stage, but he noted the need to look at Middle English genres in socio-historical context in order to find such answers.

Anglo-Saxon shieldNext up, Hiroki Okamoto gave a paper entitled Contesting English History: From ‘here’ to ‘ferd’ in Havelock the Dane. I found it a little hard to follow, but I look forward very much to seeing a printed version one day.

  • He looked closely at the use of the terms here and ferd, both words for an army. The Havelock-poet never uses the more common noun host, and Hiroki Okamoto argued that here and ferd are loaded terms – that here in both OE and ME is usually used for invading forces, whereas ferd usually connotes Anglo-Saxon royalty.
  • Before Gottrich’s speech (an Englishman, who rails against the disorder and general evilness of Danes), the terms here and ferd are used in that pattern, with Danish forces being a here. However, Hiroki Okamoto argued – and I had a little trouble following this, since it’s been a while since I read Havelock and also I have scrappy notes in my conference notebook so bear with me – that Gottrich’s speech is deliberately overblown: that it’s not meant to make the audience hate Danes, but to see Denmark as a disorderly place needing to be put in order by Havelock.
  • After that speech, though, something changes: the word ferd becomes more common, and Havelock’s forces – which are invading England! – are a ferd now.
  • Hiroki Okamoto is convinced that the poet is deploying these words deliberately; and that the use of loaded terms, especially ferd, with its royal connotations, contributes to a revisionist idea of English identity, and is perhaps closely linked to the Scandinavian cultural presence in Lincolnshire.

One Response to “Leeds Report #7, or, more fun with Middle English”

  1. Jonathan Jarrett Says:

    the inestimable Jon Jarrett

    That’s me, I just can’t be estimated. I’m only four months behind though, and arguably catching up!

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