The medievalism of fantasy texts – books, movies, television, games, and the rest – is often dismissed and mistrusted as mere nostalgia. While this is sometimes true, it is not always the case, and in recent years ‘medieval’ has become a significant concept at sites of tension and contestation such as race and gender. This paper argues that ‘medieval’ is such a defining marker of fantasy that the concept can be considered as meta-text for the genre. The idea that a fantasy work is authentically medieval may be anathema to scholars, but it is a matter of often heated debate or audiences and producers. What is, or is not, really medieval? What contemporary ideologies and behaviours are authorised by reference to the Middle Ages? By considering the passions ‘medieval’, inspires in fantasy audiences, and how the producers of popular fantasy foster and manipulate such emotions, this paper offers a Barthesian reading of the pleasures of the medieval meta-text. Is it a text of pleasure, or of bliss, nostalgically comforting or radically discomforting?
Glending Olson, in his groundbreaking 1979 study ‘Making and Poetry in the Age of Chaucer’, begins a debate on how medieval poets view themselves in relation to an ancient, idealized past. He notes that the poets of the Middle Ages have a poor self-image when it comes to versification and that court poets rarely equate themselves with their predecessors. It is my goal to explore how Chaucer’s appropriation of the words ‘making’ and ‘poetry’ allow the terms to change from his time to the time of Phillip Sidney. I utilize the works of Edgar Zilsel and Marshall McLuhan to highlight the importance of the physical ‘making’ of the up-and-coming tradesmen of Renaissance England in transforming a lowly ‘makere’ into a true court ‘poete’. In doing so, I hope to reveal a connection between the skilled crafts of the shopkeepers and the technical prowess of poets that becomes elevated by an emerging capitalist, Early Modern society.
While the medieval period saw something of a golden age of English mysticism, the religious turmoil and doctrinal oscillation of Tudor England saw mystic and visionary literature almost drop off the map. The idea of the unattainable, always-dislocated space that is the union with the divine takes on a new aspect in a work such as the Spiritual Exercises of Gertrude More. Written at a convent in Cambrai, More’s own location – displaced from the Protestant land of her birth in a Catholic convent in France – sees her performing a spiritual role that itself seems displaced from an earlier time. This paper uses More’s writings to weigh up the impact of changes in the ‘real’ world – significantly the New World – on mystic writing and their vocabulary of spatial and sensory metaphor. The experience she recounts in her confessions is subtly tactile, harnessing sensations of heat, chill, drought and drenching to the sensuous and romantic narrative of her spiritual progress. Alongside the time-honoured mystic images of fire, heat and dazzling light, More’s spiritual journey takes place amid oceans, fountains and storms – the topography of seafaring exploration – and appeals to notions of bodily sensation to convey her yearning to be harboured in and surrounded by the object of her devotion – to drown in a sea of divine love.