Lay Reading, Lay Readers in the High Middle Ages: Green College, January-March 2011

16 January 2011 Comments Off on Lay Reading, Lay Readers in the High Middle Ages: Green College, January-March 2011

Lay Reading, Lay Readers in the High Middle Ages
A Lecture Series at Green College

Sponsored by the Medieval Academy of America, The Medieval Association of the Pacific, Green College, the Netherlands Studies Endowment of the Faculty of Arts

Another misconception about the Middle Ages: A hegemonic male priesthood through a monopoly of literacy controlled the flow of information and so excluded from knowledge and power women and various minorities.  The four speakers of this series will show that there was a vibrant culture of writing and reading outside the Church.  Men and women in the Middle Ages of varied backgrounds participated in a literary world which thrived parallel to and intertwined with that of the religious one.

5:00 pm Wednesday, 12 January
Piano Lounge, Green College
MARJOLEIN HOGENBIRK, Universities of Amsterdam and Utrecht
“Dutch Design: The case of the 13th century Arthurian Romance of Moriaen

The Middle Dutch Romance of Moriaen is an intriguing text, and a challenge for scholars. Nothing is known about the audience of the romance, so the literary and historical background has to be reconstructed from the text itself and from circumstantial evidence from the Dutch and French traditions. The only extant version of the Moriaen was inserted in a 14th-century manuscript (The Lancelotcompilation, The Hague 129 A 10), containing ten Arthurian Romances. The compiler of this manuscript reworked the romances he inserted, and research has shown that his hand is also clearly visible in the Moriaen. The Romance of Moriaen has a remarkable main character: the first black titular hero of western literature. He is the 15-year-old Moriaen who comes to Arthur’s court to find his father and eventually becomes one of King Arthur’s best knights. In the original romance the father was Perceval, Chrétien’s grail hero whose quest is described as a failure, and so Moriaen should be interpreted in connection with Le Conte Graal. There are many epic elements in the romance, which makes it also a hybrid work.

5:00 pm Thursday, 3 February
Piano Lounge, Green College
WARREN BROWN, California Institute of Technology
“Lay People and Writing in Early Medieval Europe”

A pervasive commonplace about early medieval Europe holds that until the twelfth century, reading and writing was mainly a matter for churchmen and monks. Lay people, men and women who did not live in monasteries or hold ecclesiastical office, retained and transmitted information, and carried out legal transactions, by memory, by speech, and through ritual actions. It was the churches and monasteries that carried traditions of writing, documentation, and archiving from the Roman period into the High Middle Ages.  Collections of legal formulas produced in western and central Europe in the eighth and ninth centuries throw the conventional wisdom into serious doubt. These formula collections contain models or templates for documents, many of which in no way concern churches or monasteries. The manuscripts in which they survive suggest that they were compiled to meet the needs of a society in which laypeople as well as clerics relied heavily on documents to carry on the business of their lives.  Focus will be on one particular manuscript, to illustrate the kinds of information that the formula manuscripts provide and the conclusions about lay documentary use that can be drawn from them. The study of the manuscripts is part of a broader effort currently underway to revise the understanding of how both clergy and laity used and understood documents in early medieval Europe.

5:00 pm Monday, 7 March
Coach House, Green College
“Chaucer and Multilingual Writing in Medieval England”

In the last fifteen years, there has been an explosion of interest in bilingualism, multilingualism, and macaronics (in both the strict sense of Latin endings on vernacular words, and the looser sense of a mixture of words in different languages). The old hierarchy, according to which English only gradually clawed its way up the ladder to respectability as a sophisticated literary language, has been strongly challenged.  In England in the later Middle Ages, ‘Three languages existed in harmony, not just side by side but in symbiotic relationship, interpenetrating and drawing strength from one another; not three cultures but one culture in three voices’ (Turville-Petre). This does not mean that a large proportion of the population in the period was functionally bi- or trilingual, but multilingualism was certainly not restricted to a highly educated elite.   Evidence is available in many forms of late medieval English writing. Examples come from business and legal records, literature, sermons, political, religious and amorous lyrics. That makes even more surprising the absence of macaronic writing in Chaucer’s work.

5:00 pm Monday, 28 March
Coach House, Green College
FRANCIS GINGRAS, Université de Montréal
“Reading Romance: from a language of illiterates to a new type of books”

Between 1150 and 1180, writings in the romance language, the vernacular as opposed to Latin, became so popular that the name ‘Romance’ was used to refer to a new genre of narrative that quickly materialized in a particular type of books. Medieval vernacular literature, initially mostly oral, was thus progressively integrated into written culture. The romance language was no longer solely an oral medium for illiterates, but was propelled to the centre of a new book market, adapting to an evolving readership. By the end of the thirteenth century, works of fiction starring Arthur and the Round Table were even found in monastic libraries. Countesses and merchants owned books of romances that were clearly made for pleasure rather than for edification. Some were richly illustrated while others, rather simple ones, seem to have been miscellanies specially collected on demand for the owners. The manuscript tradition of medieval narratives gives insights for drawing a portrait of the medieval reader of romances that can be quite complex. Simultaneously, the study of the reader’s reception provides an interesting perspective to define the genre in an historically accurate way.

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