Somerset and Watson, Truth and Tales

My review of Truth and Tales: Cultural Mobility and Medieval Media, ed. Fiona Somerset and Nicholas Watson (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2015), appears in Arthuriana. Here’s the opening of the review:

This collection, dedicated to Richard Firth Green, grew out of the fourth annual meeting of the Canada Chaucer Seminar (Toronto, April 2012). The volume’s fourteen essays move across and between the large topics of popular culture, orality and literacy, and media studies, with a primary focus on medieval English literature and culture.

The contributions are organized into three central sections: ‘Repetition and Continuity: The Claims of History’ (Thomas Hahn, Stephen Yeager, M. J. Toswell, and Fiona Somerset), ‘Cultural Divides and Their Common Ground’ (Alastair Minnis, Michael Johnston, Lisa J. Kiser, and Barbara A. Hanawalt), and ‘New Media and the Literate Laity’ (Nicholas Watson, Robyn Malo, Kathleen E. Kennedy, and Michael Van Dussen). These are bookended by two single-essay sections entitled ‘The Truth of Tales 1’ (Green) and ‘The Truth of Tales 2’ (Andrew Taylor). Intersecting the editors’ chronological/methodological groupings, one can discover various subconversations about, e.g., vernacular theology (Toswell, Minnis, Watson, and Malo), merchants and their books (Johnston, Malo, and Kennedy), the way in which literature encodes human-animal relations (Somerset and Kiser), and London law (Hanawalt and Kennedy).

[…]

Of especial interest to readers of Arthuriana is Somerset’s essay on Lawman’s Brut. […]

NCS 2016 cfp: Chaucer’s Langland

A call for papers for a roundtable at the 2016 New Chaucer Society conference in London (July 10-15). Co-organized by Stephanie Batkie and myself. Submit abstracts using this interface.

Chaucer’s Langland

Many scholars have discerned evidence of the influence of Piers Plowman on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. What is the literary-historical significance of this “obligatory conjunction” between two major Middle English poems? This session seeks to enrich the current critical discussion about the cultural and literary resonance of Langland’s alliterative poem for Chaucer and his audience. Possible topics for short position papers include Chaucer’s perceptions of the alliterative meter; the nature of Chaucer’s access to manuscripts of Piers Plowman; Chaucer and Langland as London poets; Piers Plowman as a pre-Ricardian poem; and the overlapping literary genres of the two poetic projects, especially dialogue and estates satire.

NCS 2016 cfp: Meters and Stanza-Forms

A call for papers for a seminar at the 2016 New Chaucer Society conference in London (July 10-15). Co-organized by Jenni Nuttall and myself. Submit abstracts using this interface. As a seminar, this session will involve two or three precirculated critical essays, chosen by the organizers, and precirculated excerpts from primary texts, chosen by the participants.

Meters and Stanza-Forms: The Favorite and the Forgotten

The 14th and 15th centuries witnessed a proliferation of metrical forms and great experimentation with stanza-forms in English. Study of these holds out the promise of charting new lines of formal affiliation and alternate literary histories of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. This seminar will investigate, through individual case studies, what it is to write and read metrically and stanzaically. As Mark Lambert writes: “the maker of stanzaic narrative is […] conspicuously committed […] to finding a certain shape of experience again and again.” This session will offer a space in which to compare the shapes of experience made by Middle English meters and stanza-forms both familiar and rare. Participants will be asked to focus on one meter and/or stanza-form and precirculate a short, representative passage.

MLA 2016 cfp: English Metrical Cultures

A call for papers for a Special Session at the 2016 MLA Convention in Austin (January 7-10). Send 250-word abstracts to eric.weiskott@bc.edu by March 13, 2015.

English Metrical Cultures

How have English meters shaped and been shaped by larger cultural formations? How do meters form cultures, and how do cultures form meters? All historical specialties welcome.

English prosody and poetics

My individual graduate tutorial, English Prosody and Poetics, 1300-1600 (syllabus), will run this spring. This tutorial is a practical and theoretical introduction to issues in late medieval and sixteenth-century poetics. Here are the learning objectives for each unit:

1. Introduction to Verse History and Historical Poetics

Learning objectives: Theoretical understanding of the history of metrical study and the key concepts ‘rhythm’ and ‘meter’; comparison of intrinsic (formal/practical) and extrinsic (historical/cultural) approaches to metrical form; practical understanding of modern syllabic meters.

2. The Alliterative Tradition in its Eighth Century

Learning objectives: Theoretical understanding of the history and cultural contexts of the alliterative meter in the late medieval period; comparison of competing explanations for the existence of fourteenth-century alliterative poetry; comparison of the use of the alliterative meter in two compositions, Piers Plowman and St. Erkenwald; practical understanding of alliterative b-verse meter.

3. Chaucer’s Tetrameter

Learning objectives: Theoretical understanding of the history and cultural contexts of the tetrameter or octosyllable in the fourteenth century; comparison of more and less strictly syllabic accentual English meters; practical understanding of template meter or dolnik.

4 & 5. Chaucer’s Pentameter, Tail Rhyme, and Prose

Learning objectives: Theoretical understanding of the history and cultural contexts of Chaucer’s decasyllable/pentameter in the fourteenth century; comparison of Chaucer’s several meters and two staged discussions of form (after Sir Thopas and in the Parson’s Prologue); understanding of the relationships between metrical form and manuscript form in Sir Thopas; comparison of Chaucer’s metrical choices in the larger context of his ‘metrical landscape’; practical understanding of Chaucer’s decasyllable/pentameter.

6. Chaucer’s Pentameter in the Fifteenth Century

Learning objectives: Theoretical understanding of the history and cultural contexts of Chaucer’s decasyllable/pentameter in the fifty years following Chaucer’s death; comparison of Chaucer’s metrical habits to those of his literary heirs, Hoccleve and Lydgate; understanding of the critical uses of, and historical problems with, the concept of a ‘Chaucerian tradition’ extending into the fifteenth century; practical understanding of Lydgate’s decasyllable/pentameter.

7. (Chaucer’s) Pentameter in the Sixteenth Century

Learning objectives: Theoretical understanding of the history and cultural contexts of the decasyllable/pentameter in the sixteenth century; comparison of Chaucer’s metrical habits to those of Wyatt, Surrey, and Shakespeare; understanding of Martin Duffell’s concept of ‘the Italian line in English,’ with reference both to Chaucer and later versifiers; critical scrutiny of sixteenth-century perceptions of earlier and contemporary meter as expressed by Gascoigne and Puttenham; practical understanding of Wyatt’s decasyllable/pentameter.