Skip to main content

IMC 2016: Sessions

Session 123: Hungry for Knowledge or Just Hungry?: Consuming Middle English Poetry

Monday 4 July 2016, 11.15-12.45

Moderator/Chair:Katherine Hikes Terrell, Department of English, Hamilton College, New York
Paper 123-aFood and Drink in the Manuscripts of Piers Plowman
(Language: English)
Sarah Wood, Department of English & Comparative Literary Studies, University of Warwick
Index terms: Language and Literature - Middle English, Manuscripts and Palaeography
Paper 123-bEating His Words: Skelton's Narratives of Food and Consumption
(Language: English)
Will Rogers, School of Humanities, University of Louisiana, Monroe
Index terms: Daily Life, Economics - Urban, Language and Literature - Middle English, Liturgy
Paper 123-cGluttony, Knowledge, and Consumption in John Gower's Story of Nectanabus
(Language: English)
Curtis Runstedler, Department of English Studies, Durham University
Index terms: Historiography - Medieval, Language and Literature - Middle English, Learning (The Classical Inheritance), Teaching the Middle Ages

Paper -a:
This paper explores scribal engagement with the subject of food and drink in Piers Plowman. Interest in the topic appears in the manuscripts in the form of marginalia, illustrations, and textual variants, including scribally-composed lines. One scribe even edited the list of wines in the Prologue. The evidence explored here suggests that medieval readers were alert to the ubiquity of food, drink, and appetite in Langland's work. They responded to the full range of the poem's treatment of the subject, noting its biblically-derived injunctions to feed the poor, but also relishing the homely flavour of Langland's concrete depictions of diet and of sinful over-consumption.

Paper -b:
Toward the beginning of Skelton's Collyn Clout, Collyn announces the simplicity of his verse, while nevertheless maintaining the importance of its message:

Rusty and moughte eaten,
Yf ye take well therwith,
It hath in it some pyth. (56-58)

Though eaten by moths - and implicity mouths - the verse can maintain its value. These lines in fact are more important than normally thought: connecting various poems about food, drink, and the tongue to larger crtiques of Skelton's society, these half-eaten verses of Skelton reflect how the reader is expected to consume poetry about the world in order to digest some larger truths. In this paper, I highlight how in both Collyn Clout and Elynour Rummynge, a language of food, eating, and digestion is central to understand how Skelton marries biting social critique with the description of food and drink.

Paper -c:
In Book VI of the Confessio amantis, John Gower offers Nectanabus's story as a cautionary tale against gluttony. Gower's stance on literal gluttony is on view in the Mirour, in which he critiques meaningless culinary production. But what is the relationship between gluttony and the mage? I argue that gluttony refers to Nectanabus's excessive appetites for erotic desire and esoteric knowledge. Despite a vast knowledge of sorcery and the stars, Nectanabus is drawn onward to his fate, his store of knowledge ultimately useless to protect him. Nectanabus's unrestrained appetites enable Gower to set limits on medieval consumption of knowledge.