Thursday, July 12, 2007

Medieval Texts

Here you'll find the Medieval Dream visions, Medieval Drama (with the exception of Mankind which is not easy to find) and the Arthurian material on our list (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the selections from Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur). I'll post this before I completely finish the study guides, so check back until they're complete. It's nice that some of these ideas I will return to in class next semester, which will give me a chance to blog about them again!

Questions, Directions for further thought, etc.
  • The dream vision form is fascinating as it offers an exterior space in which to investigate interior struggles, yet is also a very public forum where the narrator's personal feelings (whether grief or insecurities or inexperience) are expressed. The Princeton Encyclopedia notes that these visions descend from either biblical visions (i.e. Revelations, Daniel, etc) or philosophical ones (Boethius, Scipio, etc) and that in visions such as The Parliament of Fowls there is a "double perspective, of past and present...that gradually make the dream vision a particularly self-conscious and reflexive form which calls attention to its status as imaginative fiction and expresses these poets' relatively new awereness of themselves as poets." (p. 311) Pearl belongs to the philosophical/religious dream vision category that is more "epistemological" and deals with fundamental questions about reality, appearance, etc. So where can we go from here?!
  • The Pearl/Gawain-poet's use of form can at times be connected with the idea he expresses. I talk about this specifically with Pearl and the concern with death and resurrection continually be defined in terms of the grave and the pearl within that grave. This metaphor for a contained space that bursts forth (prevalent also in H.D.'s Trilogy) tropes the form of a structured stanza form with a repeating yet reinvented line concluding each stanza within a fitt.
  • Speech acts and language enacting belief or ritual. How do the York Mystery plays demonstrate this, both in their use of language (Satan's fall, for example) and the use of the play genre? Also, what is the interaction between religious experience and audience participation -- is the audience a passive watcher? a spiritual "cloud of witnesses"? Is religious theatre "sacramental" as Martin Browne (one of the revivers of Medieval mystery plays in the 40's) posited. I think that genre is the issue for studying the Medieval Mystery Plays and have tried to point to that in some of my notes in the Study Guide. I found my notes for Everyman revolving around similar questions, as the Study guide reflects. While the York Mystery plays led me to wonder about the sacramental presence of a play, I was curious with Everyman about the staging and how it interacts with the meaning of the play: the gradual erasure of the character of Death and how the staging of allegorical characters enacts an actual community. This latter bit is particularly fascinating when considered in light of the tension between the interior mind and its exterior representation in the play and the juxtaposition of faith as an individual and corporate activity.
  • In the Arthurian legends particularly, we find a critique of the narrative values championed by romance narratives of the time. Is this a critique merely of themes, or does it likewise extend to an insecurity over the role and influence of literature? Could we compare this to the use of dream visions that demonstrate the inability to merely read and observe, but that one must act in order to achieve the goal -- heaven, immortality, etc? In other words, do the Arthurian legends present an ambiguous portrait of their world as a mirror of the ambiguity of writing rather than acting? What evidence would we use to make such an assertion?

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