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This blog post is adapted from the paper I gave at the Textualities 2013 MA Conference on 8 March 2013 at the School of English, University College Cork. 

In the Old High German Hildebrandslied, the two warriors Hildebrand and Hadubrand, who are both father and son and the champions of two opposing armies, end up fighting each other. Although the outcome is not stated, it is assumed that the father kills the son. But why did they have to fight in the first place?

The reasons behind the two warrior’s actions can be found in the heroic ideal prevalent in Germanic societies up to the Middle Ages. Among the virtues propagated in this ideal are seeking of lasting fame, loyalty and stoic acceptance of fate. The aspect that is most problematic in the Hildebrandslied is loyalty. In the text, there is a clash between loyalty to a lord and loyalty to relatives. A lord gathered many retainers around himself who would protect him and whom he would protect. In exchange for their loyalty, he would give them treasures such as gold or rings (O’Brien O’Keefe 107f.).

The Hildebrandslied makes clear that both Hildebrand and Hadubrand are bound to a lord. When Hildebrand wants to make peace, he offers his son an armring “cheisuringu gitan, so imo se der chuning gap” (“made from the emperor’s gold, which the king had given to him”, Hildebrandslied 34). The king gave him treasures, and it is Hildebrand’s duty to fight for him in battle. Further on in the conversation, Hildebrand remarks about Hadubrand’s armour from which he concludes that Hadubrand has a good lord. This connection between the quality of armour and a chief can only mean that Hildebrand thinks it is a gift to Hadubrand from a lord. Thus, both warriors have vowed loyalty to some kind of leader, and their armies are present to witness that this promise is not neglected.

Beowulf and Wiglaf, by J. R. Skelton, 1908 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Beowulf and Wiglaf, by J. R. Skelton, 1908 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Fighting for the lord in a battle was a retainer’s duty. In the case of Hildebrand, however, it is not as simple as that. Fate has forced him to fight against and kill his own and only son. The family bond was as important as loyalty to a lord. Protection of kinspeople and vengeance for killed family members were imperative aspects of the hero’s life in heroic lays and epics . Killing your own kin was deemed unnatural and shameful (Bostock 60). Hildebrand realises exactly this conflict when he complains that “nu scal mih suasat chind suertu hauwan, breton mit sinu billiu, eddo ih imo ti banin werdan” (“Now shall my own child hit me with his sword, strike with his blade, or I will slay him”, Hildebrandslied 53-4). Referring to this passage, Siegfried Gutenbrunner concludes that “hier wird also die Hildebrand-Hadubrand-Thematik sichtbar, der Zwist, der zwischen denen droht, die untrennbar zusammenhalten sollten” (“here, the Hildebrand-Hadubrand-theme comes to the fore, the dispute between those who should cling together”, Gutenbrunner 141). This describes precisely the problem at the core of the poem: a fight between two people closely related that cannot be averted.

From Hadubrand’s perspective, the situation is simple. He never realises Hildebrand is his father. He perceives the other warrior to be a “clever old hun” (Hildebrandslied 39) and only has to follow the loyalty to his lord. In the words of Gutenbrunner: “Er glaubt sich und sein Land in der Gefahr einer hunnischen Invasion und stürzt sich in die Gefahr, das Friedensangebot Hildebrands mißachtend, mißdeutend, verachtend” (“he thinks himself and his country in danger of a Hunnish invasion and decides to fight, ignoring, misinterpreting and condemning Hildebrand’s peace-offering”, Gutenbrunner 44). Hildebrand, on the other hand, is trapped between disloyalty to his king and disloyalty to his family. If he decides to kill his son, his family line will die; if he decides not to fight against his son, his side will lose the battle, he will lose his reputation and will be forced to live a life in shame. He opts for the duties to his lord, as it is the only possibility in the set of values that form the heroic code.

Hence, the chief conflict of the text is one of irreconcilable loyalties. Hildebrand was forced to fight against his will by the principles that guide his life as a warrior, he is, to quote Brian Murdoch, “subordinate to a code which he has accepted already in general terms” (Murdoch 58). It turns out that the battle was indeed inevitable. By making this conflict the focus of a lay, however, the poet also makes his audience aware of this problem inherent in the heroic ideal. He stresses that there are contrasting values at work that can and will lead to grave consequences, such as a father being forced to kill his son because there simply is no possible alternative.

References:

Bostock, J. Knight. A Handbook on Old High German Literature. Oxford: OUP, 1976. Print.

Gutenbrunner, Siegfried. Von Hildebrand und Hadubrand: Lied, Sage, Mythos. Heidelberg: Winter, 1976. Print.

“Hildebrandslied.” Althochdeutsches Lesebuch. Ed. Wilhelm Braune.  Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1994. Web. <http://www.linguistics.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/~strunk/Deutsch/hildebra.htm&gt;.

Murdoch, Brian. The Germanic Hero: Politics and Pragmatism in Early Medieval Poetry. London: Hambledon Press, 1996. Print.

O’Brien O’Keefe, Katherine. “Heroic Values and Christian Ethics.” The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature. Ed. Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge. 107- 25. Cambridge: CUP, 1991. Print.

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Since the earliest video games, depictions of and references to medieval culture have been a major part of this kind of entertainment. This includes games from almost every genre imaginable, such as point’n’click-adventure (e.g. the King’s Quest series), real-time strategy (e.g. the Age of Empires series) and role-playing games (e.g. the Gothic series). The setting is often imaginary and fantastic, but even then the reference to historical cultures is fairly obvious. One of these games I have been playing recently is “Mount and Blade: Warband”, a 2010 sequel to the original “Mount and Blade” of 2008. It was developed by TaleWorlds and published by Paradox Interactive.

The game is set on an imaginary continent (Calradia) divided into six realms: the kingdoms of Rhodok, of Vaegirs, of Swadia, and of the Nords, as well as the Sarranid Sultanate and the Khergit Khanate. Each faction is ruled by a monarch who gives fiefs to vassals in exchange for their sworn support. The fiefs are either villages, castles or towns.

The names, the design of the buildings, the nature and equipment of the fighters and the trade of each kingdom are based on real medieval realms and armies. For example, the Rhodoks display features of the Holy Roman Empire, and the Vaegirs are based on Slavic peoples of the Middle Ages. The Sultanate and the Khanate are obviously inspired by Northern African and Asian cultures. However, these aspects of the game will probably be the main concern of other blog posts.

In the beginning of the game, the player can design the character by selecting a gender, choosing from a range of appearances and distributing skill points to certain skills. Especially gender and skills have an important influence on the course of the game. At first, it is more complicated for a female character to get along in the world and gather renown and wealth. However, this disadvantage is balanced by the availability of more possibilities of interaction with other characters.

After the character is finished, the player arrives in the world completely friend- and moneyless. By gathering a band of soldiers and so-called heroes, by performing tasks for vassals, kings and townspeople and by fighting enemies, the player accumulates experience, renown and wealth. Eventually, it is possible to become the vassal of a king, which means that one is granted fiefs and has to fight if the king or the marshal command it. Over time, the size of the army and the number of fiefs increases if one is successful enough. However, there are also other possible choices to be made. If the players don’t want to become a ruler’s subject, they can found their own kingdom or help a claimant to the throne. Each of these alternatives lead to different complications and choices that must be made.

Attacking a castle half-hidden in the mist (game screenshot)

Attacking a castle half-hidden in the mist (game screenshot)

For me, the most interesting aspect of this game is that the player gets a glimpse of how medieval politics may have worked. The politics in the game are based on two values: renown and relationship. With every battle, every marriage to a well-connected non-player character, and every completed quest, the relationships between the different vassals and the protagonist change. These have direct influence on the success of the player: if a character is friends with many lords, it is easier to be granted better and more fiefs, to become the marshal, to be protected if the enemy attacks. If the player chose to found a new kingdom or support a claimant, it is essential to befriend many lords that are not fond of the current king, thereby starting a rebellion. Marriages are only depicted as a political and economic decision, which also seems to be fairly accurate judging from my knowledge of medieval literature.

Every decision has an influence on the outcome of the game, be it whether to attack a seemingly superior enemy, or developing a certain skill of the character, or accepting a fief, or buying the soldiers’ food. Also, the player’s success sometimes depends on the luck of being close to a certain event. For example, if a castle is attacked, it takes some time to get to it, sometimes up to three or more in-game days if the player is very far away. This means that a decision must be made whether to return to the castle, which would pose the risk of being too late and wasting several days. When being confronted with a decision, the time aspect always has to be taken into account.

Concluding this very rough overview, it can be said that the game may not be the most accurate of depictions of medieval culture out there in the gaming world, especially since trade and every-day life are almost entirely absent. When it comes to politics however, it provides the player with the opportunity to choose from a wide variety of options whilst being fairly close to the processes involved in medieval politics.

References:

Mount and Blade: Warband. Dev. TaleWorlds. Publ. Paradox Interactive. 2010. Video Game. DVD-ROM.

The elaborate design of the Ellesmere manuscript of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales contains many interesting details; I have already written about the layout of the Tale of Sir Thopas. While working on a description of the manuscript for a college assignment, I have noticed another curious aspect.

In the manuscript, there are portraits of all the pilgrims painted next to their tales. Among these altogether twenty-three images, there is also one of Chaucer. However, he is not placed next to his first tale, Sir Thopas, but next to the Tale of Melibee, his second contribution to the pilgrimage’s entertainment. I wondered why that may be and read a bit in The Ellesmere Chaucer: Essays in Interpretation.

Portrait of Pilgrim Chaucer next to the Tale of Malibee

Portrait of Pilgrim Chaucer next to the Tale of Malibee (source: Wikimedia)

In the essays I managed to read, two possible reasons were suggested. Alan T. Gaylord states in “Portrait of a Poet” that the image is not located next to Sir Thopas “probably because it was incomplete (having been rudely interrupted), and perhaps also because the makers of the Ellesmere compilation wanted the picture to be associated with his more serious contribution” (121). Richard K. Emmerson disagrees to some extent a few pages further in the essay collection and asserts that “it is also possible that the placement of the portrait on folio 153v results from a practical consideration as much as from a critical response to the text” (152). Observing that Sir Thopas and Melibee are written on different quires in the manuscript, he suggests that “Artist 2 may have painted the poet’s portrait in quire 20 next to ‘Melibee’ because quire 19 was still in the hands of Artist 1, who would have been at work on the Prioress’s portrait […]” (152).

I am more inclined towards Emmerson’s suggestion. Throughout the manuscript, traces of both practical considerations and critical awareness are noticeable – I have already written about how the scribe may have used Chaucer’s joke for his own layout of Sir Thopas. After the Cook’s Tale breaks of unfinished, the rest of the page remains empty. Surely, this cannot only be a sign of practical thinking (it also coincides with the end of a quire), but the conscious decision to indicate the fragmentary character of the Tale. At other places in the text, “the scribe began a new unit of text on a new page” (Parkes 44). This, too, can be traced back to a combination of critical thinking and practical considerations rather than rote copying. More examples may be found for this combination, but the above should suffice here.

Concluding, I believe that Richard Emmerson is closer to the truth than the scholars assuming that the decision to draw Chaucer next to the Tale of Melibee is only based on critical examination of the Canterbury Tales. The makers of the manuscript repeatedly show an awareness for both the content of the text and the practicalities of preparing a manuscript, so it seems only logical that both aspects are involved in this decision as well. Unfortunately, it is not possible to prove the alternative possibilities, since Chaucer is the only pilgrim telling two tales. If there was another instance of two tales by one pilgrim, the placement of that pilgrim’s portrait may have been more conclusive as to the reasoning behind these decisions. In the end, however, this question may never be answered with certainty since we cannot now ask the scribe and illuminators why they did what they did.

References:

Emmerson, Richard K. “Text and Image in the Ellesmere Portraits of the Tale-tellers.” ;The Ellesmere Chaucer: Essays in Interpretation. Ed. Martin Stevens and Daniel Woodward.  San Marino: Huntington Library, 1997. 143-70. Print.

Gaylord, Alan T. “Portrait of a Poet.” The Ellesmere Chaucer: Essays in Interpretation. Ed. Martin Stevens and Daniel Woodward. San Marino: Huntington Library, 1997. 121-42. Print.

Parkes, Malcolm B. “The Planning and Construction of the Ellesmere Manuscript.” The Ellesmere Chaucer: Essays in Interpretation. Ed. Martin Stevens and Daniel Woodward.  San Marino: Huntington Library, 1997. 41-7. Print.

Noir Adaptations

Recently, owing to the rather extensive DVD collection of the Boole library, I have watched a lot of film noirs. For years I have been intrigued by these films, ever since I first listened to the soundtrack for Louis Malle’s “Ascenseur pour l’Échafaud” (1958) played by jazz trumpet player Miles Davis, whose work I like very much:

Crime fiction has always been a favourite genre of mine, and thus film noir seemed an obvious choice with its focus on investigators and crimes. However, this post does not only concern movies. When playing “L.A. Noire”, a 2011 action adventure developed by Team Bondi and published by Rockstar Games, I realised that one of the cases in the bonus material of the game closely resembles “The Naked City“, a film noir I have watched earlier – the case even has the same title. In this post, I will compare the game to the film and show striking similarities and differences.

The Naked City“ is a 1948 film noir directed by Jules Dassin, starring among others Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff and Dorothy Hart. It is set in New York and introduced by the narrator as an authentic picture of this city with the actors playing “their roles in the streets, in the apartment houses and in the skyscrapers of New York itself“:

The plot is as follows: Gene Dexter, a young fashion model, is murdered in her apartment by two men who first drug her and then leave her in the bath tub. One of the attackers afterwards kills the other and deposes of him in the river. Called to the crime scene, Lt. Maldoon and his team start to investigate and find connections to a Philip Henderson and Dr. Stoneman. They also find sleeping pills that were prescribed by said doctor. Questioning Ruth Morrison, a friend of the victim, the detectives start to suspect Frank Niles, the fiancé of Morrison, but also friend to Dexter and a compulsive liar. After the interrogation, Niles is tagged by the police, but being unaware of it he pawns a cigarette case the investigators find to be stolen from Dr. Stoneman, and buys a plane ticket to Mexico City. When finding out that the murdered woman also wore a stolen ring, Niles’s guilt becomes more and more apparent. Muldoon and one of his team go to see the owner of the stolen ring, a Mrs. Hylton. While questioning her, Ruth Morrison appears and it is disclosed that she is Hylton’s daughter. After discovering that her engagement ring is also stolen, they decide to pay a visit to Niles. Arriving at his apartment, the detectives find him and a stranger in a fight. The stranger is able to escape after a chase. In the ensuing interrogation of Niles, he lies again saying that he is innocnt. Muldoon arrests him. One of the junior detectives hears of the criminal murdered in the beginning and starts to investigate a connection between the two cases. He talks to a patrolman who previously arrested the man, who tells him of the man’s partner, an athletic robber fond of the harmonica, probably a wrestler of some kind. The detective tries to find out who he is. Meanwhile, Maldoon finds out that Henderson and Stoneman are the same person. Tricking the doctor, Maldoon confronts him with Niles. Stoneman confesses that he loved Dexter and gave her information on possible places to rob. He is prevented from jumping out of the window by Niles and is arrested. In the meantime, the junior detective has found the wrestler (Willy Garzah) and was attacked by him. A big chasing scene follows in which Garzah climbs high onto Williamsburg Bridge and is shot down by the police.

The case in the game closely follows this plot. However, there are some striking differences most of which can be explained as changes necessitated by the frame narrative of the game. The game is set in Los Angeles rather than New York, as is the whole game. The victim in the game, Julia Randall, is not chloroformed as Gene Dexter is in the film, but drugged with morphine. This is in line with a story from the main game where the protagonist, detective Cole Phelps, investigates a morphine ring.

Interrogation of Arnett and Swanson (screenshot)

Interrogation of Arnett and Swanson (screenshot)

The connection between the two cases is not made by the partner of Phelps, but by the coroner who examines both Randell and Jimmy Leblanc (the criminal murdered). The medical examiner is also the person telling the detectives about the harmonica. I don’t know the reason for this change but a reasonable guess would be that since Phelp’s direct partner is never absent, the independent investigations had to be carried out by other members of the police. This would also explain why Phelps tells one of his former partners to ask around for the wrestler. Instead of taking Henry Arnett (the game’s Frank Niles) to confront Dr. Stoneman, the two detectives interrogate him alone. To the end of this scene, the doctor kills himself. I cannot think of a logical reason for these changes other than making it more dramatic. In the end, Willy the wrestler is also chased by the police, but not up a bridge but up a building. I suggest that the writers of the game exchanged the Williamsburg Bridge of the film with the Broadway sign on a tower atop the building in order to be true to the symbolic character of this last scene. In both cases, the criminal climbs onto a structure representing the “naked city” but is eventually overcome by the police.

As should be clear by now, most of the names have been changed. However, there are two curious exceptions: Philip Henderson and Dr. Stoneman. “Both” characters have the same names in both the film and the game. I could not come up with a satisfying explanation for that so far. Also, the wrestler is called Willy both times; however, the last names are different. There is also a similarity between the victim’s housekeeper’s name in the film (Martha Swenson) and the victim’s friend’s name in the game (Heather Swanson), but that may be accidental.

Confrontation of Dr. Stoneman (game screenshot)

Confrontation of Dr. Stoneman (game screenshot)

Most striking, however, aren’t the differences, but some of the similarities that show how closely adapted the case in the game was from the film. There are many verbal references and almost word-for-word quotations from the film in the game, such as the words uttered by Dr. Stoneman before his suicide (attempt): in the film he says: “Don’t make me have to see anyone, not my wife, no friends, not my lawyer. Just lock me up and hide me away”; in the game he says: “I want to see no one. Not my wife or my children, nor my friends. And I don’t want a lawyer. Just lock me up and throw away the key.” Another almost direct quote can be found in the conversation of the detective with the fashion shop owner. Again, I will give both versions of the answer she gives to the question why the murder victim was fired from the shop. Film: “Gentlemen sometimes come here with their wives. When Gene Dexter modeled, many of them left my shop a little too interested in her. Their wives didn’t like it, and neither did I.” Game: “Husbands sometimes come in here with their wives. When Julia Randall modeled, the husbands were often more interested in her than they were their wives’ dresses. The wives weren’t happy, and neither was I.” These and other references are too close to be unintentional.

The list of similarities and differences could be continued in a more detailed way. In my opinion, it would be worthwhile to examine the correlations of this particular part of the game and the intertextuality of the game as a whole in more detail. A single blog post, or a series of them, however, may not be the most suitable of places for that endeavor, since I believe I have already stretched the readers’ patience to the limit. What I have shown so far is that this particular case in the game is obviously a deliberate and faithful adaptation of the film. The dedication to detail proves that the writers were not only doing their job but were also emotionally involved in this project which has a positive impact on the whole gaming experience.

References:

The Naked City. Dir. Jules Dassin. Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff and Dorothy Hart. 1948. Film. Arrow Film Classics, 2009. DVD.

L. A. Noire. Dev. Team Bondi. Prod. Rockstar Games. 2011. Video Game. DVD-ROM.

Bluesy Romance

Why is pilgrim Chaucer like the Blues Brothers? Unlike the famous Mad Hatter’s Riddle in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, I believe there actually is a definite answer to this one: Chaucer and the Blues Brothers are alike, because both the pilgrim and the band show extraordinary creative versatility when faced with disapproval.

In the Canterbury Tales’ “Tale of Sir Thopas”, Chaucer tells a story that is a parody on medieval romance tradition both in content and style. It is a very effective and humorous spoof of the genre. The pilgrims’ host, however, does not realise this, he dismisses the tale as “nat worth a toord” (VII.930) and “rym dogerel” (VII.925). He urges Chaucer to change style and genre, to tell a virtuous tale in prose. It is a sign for the pilgrim’s, and ultimately the poet’s, excellence in tale-telling that he can readily switch register and accommodate his audience’s wishes.

In the 1980 film “The Blues Brothers”, the eponymous band finds itself in a joint called “Bob’s Country Bunker” which famously plays both kinds of music: Country and Western. Being a blues band, their style naturally is not well received by the audience (“That ain’t no Hank Williams song.”); the lights are turned off mid-song and bottles are thrown at them. Confronted physically with their audience’s discontent, they quickly adapt, playing the kind of music that is expected:

It takes extraordinary talent and skill to be able to leave the genre you are familiar with and improvise texts or music your audience is more pleased with. It takes even more to improvise brilliantly, as both the Blues Brothers and Chaucer do in their respective situation.

I am, of course, not suggesting that the screenwriters of “The Blues Brothers” tried to copy Chaucer; I believe that would be a bit far-fetched. I would argue, however, that both use this similar plot in order to highlight excellence and creativity of their protagonists. This device is employed very successfully in both the text and the film. The internal audiences may disapprove of the produced works, but the external one certainly recognises the brilliance of the “Tale of Sir Thopas” and the Blues Brothers’ music.

There are more similarities between the two works. All of these will, of course, be incidental, since I do not believe that the screenwriters of the film had a firm knowledge of medieval English literature when writing. Both the band and the pilgrim are cut short in the middle of their song or tale. Both are interrupted by a host, i.e. the host of the Tabard Inn in the text and the joint’s owner Bob turning of the lights in the film. Both hosts express their discontent; the medieval “nat worth a toord” becomes the modern “That ain’t no Hank Williams song.”

It is, of course, pointless to try to find too many similarities between a 14th century text and a 1980s film. However, I believe that a superficial comparison shows that some narrative devices have not changed. I think there are only a few better ways to show a character’s excellence than forcing them to improvise in a different genre. In the end, I feel that both scenes highlight creative skill and talent rather than depicting ‘artists’ producing the wrong work in the wrong place.

References:

The Blues Brothers. Dir. John Landis. Perf. John Belushi and Dan Akroyd. Universal Studios, 1980. DVD.

Riverside Chaucer. 3rd ed. Ed. Larry D. Benson. Oxford: OUP, 1988. Print.

Preparing for a Middle English seminar on, among others, Chaucer’s infamous “Tale of Sir Thopas”, I went down to Q-1 to have a look at the Hengwrt manuscript facsimile of the Canterbury Tales. Turning the pages to “Sir Thopas”, something similar to the following caught my eyes:

(Detail of Ellesmere EL 26 C fol. 9, reproduced in Tschann 3)

Having read the text before, and thus being aware of its rhyme scheme, I soon realised that the scribes of Hengwrt and Ellesmere wrote the two couplets of each stanza in the first column and the two tail rhymes in the second, each in between the lines of its respective couplet. The rhymes are connected by brackets. If a stanza has bobs, they are written in a third column, making the layout even more confusing:

(Detail of Ellesmere EL 26 C fol. 9, reproduced in Tschann 3)

This third column, however, is not as strictly separated from the second as the second from the first, at least in the Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts. I believe this is probably due to space constraints.

Why did the scribes choose this rather peculiar way of structuring the text? Judith Tschann asserts that the “layout or ordinatio of a work in a manuscript reflects the scribe’s understanding of a text and his attempts to make the text understood by those for whom he is preparing the manuscript. The layout embodies or presumes some critical response to a literary text on the part of the scribe […]” (Tschann 2). What, then, is the scribes’ interpretation of “Sir Thopas”? Were they simply following a tradition of structuring romances, or did their understanding of the text influence the layout?

According to Tschann, there was indeed “a tradition of indicating verse form graphically” (Tschann 7), which, however, was usually not used for tail-rhyme stanzas (cf. Tschann 6f.). The scribes’ choice of layout, then, must have other reasons than tradition. In my opinion, these reasons must lie in the scribes’ reaction to the tale.

Structuring the tale into three columns has the effect that the redundant or comic tail-rhymes and bobs, such as “He hadde a semely nose” (l. 729) and “In towne” (l. 793), stand out from the page. The “pointless metrical variations” (Riverside Chaucer 917) are highlighted in the same way. The elaborate design itself can be seen as supporting the joke of making a bad tale look good, thus “call[ing] attention to the skill of the poet who is so good at being so bad” (Tschann 7). Realising that the text is a parody on the romance tradition, the scribes choose a structure that makes the humour more obvious to the reader.

However, the joke may even go further than that. In his 1971 article “’Sir Thopas’: An Agony in Three Fits”, J.A. Burrow has observed that the three fits of the tale have 18, 9, and 4½ stanzas, respectively (cf. Burrow 57). Each fit, therefore, is half as long as its predecessor. Adding to this diminution, the action of the passages lessens through the fits. In Burrow’s words, “the poem seems to narrow away, section by section, towards nothingness” (Burrow 57). The layout of the manuscripts does the same: the couplet of 2 lines is in the first column, the tail-rhyme of 1 line in the second and, sometimes, the bob of less than ½ a line in the third. Similar to the poem, the actual lines on the page “narrow away […] towards nothingness.” In the Ellesmere manuscript, this drifting into a void is obvious: the brackets connecting the tail-rhymes or the bob line rhymes point into blankness:

(Detail of Ellesmere EL 26 C fol. 9, reproduced in Tschann, page 3)

Burrow refers to classical music theory, in which an octave, i.e. perfect harmony, is produced by a ratio of 2:1 (cf. Burrow 57), and concludes that this use of harmony for “Sir Thopas” is “part of the secret, not to say ‘superior’, joke” (Burrow 58). I believe it is quite possible that the scribes got this ‘inside joke’ and reproduced it within their possibilities – the layout of the tale on the pages. The structure of both the tale and the page strive for harmony, whereas the contents (and the brackets on the rhymes) lead to nothing.

References:
Burrow, J.A. “’Sir Thopas’: An Agony in Three Fits.” Review of English Studies, New Series, 22.1 (1971) 54-8. Web. JSTOR.

Jones, E.A. “’Loo, Lordes Myne, Heere Is a Fit!’: The Structure of Chaucer’s Sir Thopas.”  Review of English Studies, New Series, 51.2 (2000) 248-52. Web. JSTOR.

Riverside Chaucer. 3rd ed. Ed. Larry D. Benson. Oxford: OUP, 1988. Print.

Tschann, Judith. “The Layout of ‘Sir Thopas’ in the Ellesmere, Hengwrt, Cambridge Dd.4.24, and Cambridge Gg.4.27 Manuscripts.” The Chaucer Review 20.1 (1985) 1-13. Web. JSTOR.

Research Blog

Welcome to the research blog I’m writing as part of the MA programme “Texts and Contexts: Medieval to Renaissance” at University College Cork. By and by, this blog will be filled with posts concerning my current research in the programme or “off-topic” posts about other academic interests I pursue.

My research interests are:
– Old and Middle English literature
– manuscript culture
– memory culture
– feminist and gender theoretical readings of medieval literature

– video games and their cultural and historical background