Philological Quarterly

Abstracts: 94.4

"Ricardus Tertius Dentatus: Textual History and the King’s Teeth" by Emily Rebekah Huber

This essay places the legend of Richard III’s natal teeth within the frameworks of late medieval practices of historiography, folklore, and popular romance. While the myth of Richard III’s monstrous birth and natal teeth first appear within five years after the historical king’s death in 1485, the motifs therein are significantly older. The common take on this legend is that it originates in the work of authors whose motives are to demonize the character of Richard III and whose accounts can thus be considered unreliable. However, examining the legend within the above contexts reveals that the appearance of this motif speaks to a crossroads of folklore and medieval popular culture within changing conventions of late medieval historiography.

 

"'Compunctious Visitings': Conscience as Unequivocal Witness in Macbeth" by Francesca Cauchi

In response to a recent article in which conscience is said to communicate itself so equivocally in Macbeth as to fail to produce “a coherent other as witness,” this essay contends that conscience not only bears witness in Macbeth but is seen to do so in the confessional repentance it subsequently effects. Taking as its point of departure Macbeth’s famous act 1, scene 7 soliloquy in which explicit reference to the Christian eschatology of judgment, angels, trumpets, heaven, damnation, and “the life to come” attests to at least one unequivocal communication of conscience, the essay discloses three further ways in which Macbeth’s conscience bears witness: discursively in the form of internal dialogue masquerading as external dialogue; objectively in the figure of Banquo as Macbeth’s compunctious Other; and rhetorically through the metaphorical prick of conscience, writ large in the play’s dominant “dagger of the mind” conceit and, less conspicuously, in the verbal trope to stick.

 

"Reading It Wrong to Get It Right: Sacramental and Excremental Encounters in Early Modern Poems about Hair Jewelry" by Megan Kathleen Smith

In the early seventeenth century, several poets write on a specific romantic token, the gift of their lovers’ hair, which is to be worn around the wrist like a bracelet. That object’s ambiguity leads John Donne, Thomas Carew, and Thomas Stanley through poems that are forced to confront their own vulnerability to interpretation. The poets link the reading of the poem to the reading of the bracelets and question the power and meaning of each. Straddling two extremes, these pieces become exercises in excess; both hair and poem simultaneously promise the uncanny presence of the ostensibly absent and betray their own profligate or evacuated meaning. As such, they demonstrate both sacramental and excremental qualities. The reader’s role is equally dual. The writers at once have us engage with communities that transcend the ordinary limits of communication and also set us up to mistake—or even resist—meaning. As readers, our errors prove as integral as our attention as we set out to “correctly” understand these poems.

 

"Wordsworth’s Chaucer: Mediation and Transformation in English Literary History" by Jeff Espie

This article elucidates an underexamined aspect of English literary history: Wordsworth’s connection to the Chaucerian past. Wordsworth develops an intertextual relationship with his Medieval predecessor by engaging both Chaucer’s works themselves as well as their reception history. In the four hundred years following his death, Chaucer had been mediated by various layers of interpretation; in the Prelude, the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads and the Ecclesiastical Sonnets, Wordsworth recalls and revises several of these interpretations to define his authorial identity as Chaucer’s poetic successor. The most important of his interlocutors is John Dryden, the Augustan claimant to the Chaucerian legacy, and a figure that Wordsworth finally positions as a discardable intermediary—a poet who provides the terms through which Wordsworth can construct a relationship with Chaucer, but who is himself excluded from this relationship.

"The 'Terrible Beauty' of Translation: Fagles’s  Iliad and Yeats’s Helen" by Scott Dransfield

A unique feature of Robert Fagles’s 1990 translation of Homer’s The Iliad is his strategic use of a phrase from W. B. Yeats’s poem, “Easter 1916,” in a passage that captures the essential values of the epic poem. Fagles’s choice to draw conspicuously on a phrase from a modern poem (“terrible beauty”) in his translation of an ancient one raises crucial issues relating to translation and intertextuality, foremost of which concerns translation as a process that is ultimately collaborative in nature. The translator, producing a “retranslation,” takes from the resources of his own modern poetic tradition, which has, in turn, been constructed out of the ancient tradition. Yeats’s poems, serving as the case in point, show a modernizing of Homer’s Helen, out of which a modern poetic idiom is constructed and subsequently used as material for a retranslation of Homer.