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Abstracts: Volume 86, Numbers 1 & 2 (2007)

"Apollonius of Tyre in Its Manuscript Context: An Issue of Marriage" by Melanie Heyworth

The unique Old English translation of Apollonius of Tyre is still, for the most part, considered to be a "startling" inclusion in the manuscript in which it appears: Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, 201. While Apollonius has been read as an exemplary tale, there have been only limited attempts to adduce reasons for its inclusion in MS 201. This paper proposes that an examination of the marital morality of MS 201 suggests that Apollonius is congruent with the manuscript as a whole.

"Rich Peasants in the Old French Fabliau" by Daniel M. Murtaugh

Three Old French fabliaux, "Le Vilain Mire," "Constant du Hamel," and "Boivin de Provins," reveal an uneasy fascination with a new figure in the social landscape of the thirteenth century, the rich peasant. The narrator struggles with the troubling implications of a rich peasantry because he shares popular assumptions about it, a struggle that marks these tales with incoherencies and contradictions. These disturbances can be seen to respond to a "political unconscious," a concept that resituates the concept of repression from Freud's Oedipal family romance to the collective order of political economy and class structure.

Dunbar's Broken Rainbow: Symbol, Allegory, and Apocalypse in "The Goldyn Targe" by Gregory A. Foran

The religious turn in medieval and early modern literary studies signals renewed interest in the theological investments of even ostensibly secular literature. A recent interpretation of the Scottish Chaucerian William Dunbar's courtly allegory "The Goldyn Targe" holds the poem to be an expression of Franciscan Neoplatonism. Yet far from celebrating the immanence of the divine in the mundane, Dunbar's poem uses a series of ambiguous biblical symbols to support its allegory of sexual, artistic, and spiritual alienation. Subtle allusions to Noah's flood, Solomon's apostasy, and the heavenly New Jerusalem hint at an apocalyptic rupture between the poem's speaker and an inscrutable God.

Masculine Agency and Moral Stance in Shakespeare's King John by Ian McAdam

The transition from Richard III to King John reveals a daring artistic or ideological development on Shakespeare's part, and the latter play represents an experiment remarkable in its ramifications, which include political and psychological consequences so "progressive" that the playwright in one sense retreats from them again at the beginning of the second tetralogy. King John desaturates both Catholic and Protestant platforms of their spirituality, insofar as such spirituality compromises individual moral and rational agency. This striking emphasis on personal agency and masculinity is expressed most significantly through the character of the Bastard. If Shakespeare in Richard III ultimately emphasizes the uncertainty of signs, in King John he further transforms an exploration of the often treacherous capacity of role playing into a startling exposé of the uselessness of any "moral" position, no matter how fine or correct, without individual agency to substantiate it in the context of pragmatic social interaction.

"Dryden's 'Ceyx and Alcyone': Metamorphosing Ovid" by David Gelineau

Most critics see Dryden's "Ceyx and Alcyone" as a simple rendering of the original Ovid with little of Dryden in it. But Dryden changes the tale in intrinsic and extrinsic ways. Within the tale, Dryden makes three important alterations: he reworks the battle metaphor of the storm at the beginning; he emphasizes the alienation of the gods from the suffering couple; and he alters the ending to create an unfortunate outcome. The tale also occupies a specific place within Fables and within the immediate context of the other tales around it that deal with the interpretation of dreams or visions. Through this context one can see how Dryden alters "Ceyx and Alcyone" to fit within the larger scheme of Fables, with its anti-militarism, anti-materialism, and anti-Williamite politics.

"'That Sublimest Juyce in our Body': Bloodletting and Ideas of the Individual in Early Modern England" by Eve Keller

For a short period during the second half of the seventeenth century, an animated and sometimes virulent debate arose among competing physicians about the efficacy of the ancient art of bloodletting. Although controversies had previously arisen about the proper method and use of the technique, never before had the value of the procedure itself been called into question. To its detractors, bloodletting was a form of life-threatening torture unbefitting a Christian and English nation; to its supporters, it was precisely the procedure needed to maintain and restore physical health. Beyond the competing commercial and institutional interests at stake in this debate, this essay considers the ideas of the individual implicit in the practice of bloodletting and in the rhetorical formulations of those who derided it. I argue that the terms of the objections against bloodletting suggest not just a rejection of traditional medical theory and practice, but a fundamental reconception of how individuals exist in relation to the rest of the world.

"Alfred in the Neatherd's Cottage: History Painting and Epic Poetry in the Early Nineteenth Century" by A. D. Harvey

The Religious and Political Vision of Pynchon's Against the Day by Kathryn Hume

The postmodern Pynchon of infinite ambiguity gives way to one with fairly explicit religious and political messages in Against the Day. While Buddhism, Islam, Orphic values, and Kabbalism are present, Pynchon foregrounds Christianity and specifically Catholicism. This novel also offers a more than ever before overt political program: Luddite violence against capitalism. The spiritual spectrum he favors runs from entering a convent, to his via media (Keep cool, but care!), to destroying capitalist infrastructure. His dynamiter, Webb Traverse, is treated as a kind of Labor saint, a martyr for a moral cause. In addition to the religious and political messages, Pynchon pushes constantly against a materialist concept of reality by using voices, mystic visions, magic, and all kinds of violations of consensus reality.