Doctor of Philosophy in English (PhD)
Getting (Virtually) Medieval: Live-Streaming as Public Scholarship
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This dissertation addresses the social significance of parlour games as forms of cultural expression in medieval and early modern England and France by exploring how the convergence of textual materialities, players, and narratives manifested in interactive texts, board games, and playing cards. Medieval games, I argue, do not always fit neatly into traditional or modern theoretical game models, and modern blanket definitions of ‘game’—often stemming from the study of digital games—provide an anachronistic understanding of how medieval people imagined their games and game-worlds. Chapter 1 explores what the idea of ‘game’ meant for medieval authors, readers, and players in what I call ‘game-texts’—literary texts that blurred the modern boundaries between what we would consider ‘game’ and ‘literature’ and whose mechanics are often thought to be outside the definition of ‘game.’ Chapter 2 examines how recreational mathematics puzzles and chess problems penned in manuscript collections operate as sites of pleasure, edification, and meditative playspaces in different social contexts from the gentry households to clerical cloisters. The mechanics, layout, narrative, and compilation of chess problems rendered them useful for learning the art and skill of the game in England. Chapter 3 traces the circulation, manuscript contexts, and afterlives of two game-text genres in England—the demandes d’amour and the fortune-telling string games—in order to understand how they functioned as places of engagement and entertainment for poets, scribes, and players. Chapter 4 illustrates how narrative and geography became driving forces for the development and rise of the modern thematic game in Early Modern Europe. This chapter charts how changing ideas of spatiality enabled tabletop games to shift from abstract structures enjoyed by players in the Middle Ages, in which game narratives take place off a board, to ludic objects that incorporated real-life elements in their design of fictional worlds—thereby fashioning spaces that could visually accommodate narrative on the board itself.This dissertation places games into a more nuanced historical and cultural context, showing not only the varied methods by which medieval players enjoyed games but also how these ideas developed and changed over time.
When is a dream not a dream? The Middle English convention of the ‘dream vision’ has been read by modern scholars as a genre that primarily reveals the medieval understanding of dreaming and dream theory, so that events and stories presented within a dream frame are necessarily read through that specific hermeneutic. But what might reading ‘dream visions’ without this theoretical framework do to our understanding of the text? Can removing this default mode of interpretation inspire cross-genre comparisons between narratives that present themes of courtly love? My thesis embraces this ‘genre-blind’ standpoint and traces the development of rhetorical frames through texts of the fourteenth century and into the fifteenth century. Beginning with Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess as a ‘dream vision’, which takes inspiration from the highly popular Romance of the Rose, I move to Lydgate’s two ‘dream visions’ A Complaynte of a Lovers Lyfe and The Temple of Glas, and then finally into the realm of ‘romances’ with Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale, The Tale of Sir Thopas, and the anonymous Squire of Low Degree. All six texts contain a lover’s complaint within their narrative bodies that is uniquely encased by what I have termed the sympathetic guide frame. The progression of this frame from Chaucer’s writings and beyond shows the sympathetic guide frame as an increasingly conventional device in courtly love texts due to its ability to effectively present and intensify emotion. Without the constraints of genre expectations, the modern reader can focus on the literary and emotional importance of a text, guided by a character specifically created by the author to witness a lover’s complaint and then respond emotionally to it. The identification of this kind of development of a rhetorical device would not be possible if one is hesitant to compare any texts that do not share the same genre classification. I advocate for a renewed understanding of ‘dream visions’ as more than just a dream.
This project examines how one fourteenth-century popular romance, Emaré, responds to contemporary concerns about interpretation and misreading through a close analysis of how correct and incorrect textual interpretation and its consequences are portrayed within the text. I am most interested in how the reading environment and reading practices of the fourteenth century, most especially the rapid increase in lay literacy and the inclusion of women in romance readership, turned popular romance in particular into a locus for concerns about (in)correct interpretation, and in the effect of these concerns on the romance texts themselves. How did romance writers respond to the charges being laid against their texts by contemporary critics? To what extent did they attempt to direct their readers' interpretation of these texts and prevent misreading? And how did the gender of both reader and writer affect how the text was perceived and utilized? In order to address these questions, I have performed close, historicized readings of three key episodes in Emaré: the Emperor’s misreading of Emaré’s wondrous robe, a female-authored text that makes use of a particularly feminine mode of production and is not easily readable by men such as the Emperor; Emaré’s mother-in-law’s deliberate misreading of her son’s letters; and Emaré’s final use of her son—a jointly-authored text produced by herself and her husband—to facilitate both understanding and reconciliation between herself and the two men most heavily implicated in the earlier episodes of misreading. By examining these moments within the broader context of cultural fears around the rise of female literacy and the popularity of vernacular romance, I have mapped how one such work presents a rehabilitative model of female and lay literacy. Emaré demonstrates, via the exemplary format favoured by texts of its genre, the dangers posed by disunity among female writers and male readers, and male writers and female readers, and the power that lies in an approach to reading that acknowledges both gendered lenses, and ultimately provides the sole means of correct interpretation and the moral redemption that comes with it.