Our primary aesthetic enjoyment of poetry stems from the formal qualities of measure, pattern, and rhythm – as in poetry’s ‘sister art’, music. In the course of developing performance of English poetry over its whole 1,300-year span I have come to use a ‘musicalistic’ approach in my analysis of the rhythm and movement of verse. This work leads me to propose a theory of the metre of medieval poetry which finds a simple, rhythmic, ‘musical’ element common to, say, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Orfeo, and Beowulf and indeed to most medieval, and later, verse.
The ‘Biblical epics’ of Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages are highly rhetorical compositions that combine playfulness with piety in a way that has not always been sufficiently appreciated by their critics. This paper examines the poetological presuppositions of Latin works such as Sedulius’ ‘Paschale Carmen’ and Arator’s ‘Historia Apostolica’ (paying special attention to questions of authorship, audience, and likely readership), as well as examples from the vernacular traditions, including the ‘Heliand’. I will also offer close readings of representative passages to illustrate specific interplays between pleasure and edification in these literary works, some of which were widely read throughout the Middle Ages.
Roland Barthes’ arguments in ‘The Pleasure of the Text’ have brought a literary outlook to the concept of pleasure. For him, texts that do not have a closure (‘indecisive texts’) create pleasure both in the author and the reader due to polysemy as a result of writerly neurosis. Hence, the body of the text, like a physical body, becomes a site of pleasure. Chaucer’s ‘The Parliament of Fowls’ presents such a site of bliss through the love debate among the birds where Chaucer depoliticizes and satirizes the medieval estate structure. Moreover, left open-ended, the text creates Barthesian bliss for both Chaucer and his readers. Thus, the aim of this paper is to elucidate and evaluate Chaucer’s ‘The Parliament of Fowls’ as the source of textual pleasure.