Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Languages of Power in the Age of Richard II

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Languages of Power in the Age of Richard II

Article excerpt

Lynn Staley, Languages of Power in the Age of Richard II (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005). xiv + 594 pp. ISBN 0-27102518-2. $45.00.

Lynn Staley's dense and provocative book explores the language of courtly address in the final decades of the fourteenth century. She argues that the Merciless Parliament's assault on Richard II's authority prompted - indeed necessitated - a change in modes of courtly address as the genre of seemingly playful erotic petition was displaced by more overtly earnest literature of counsel. Staley compares the turbulent English conversation about power and kingship with the French version, contrasting Charles Vs self-promotion through patronage and representation with Richard's failure to centre cultural production upon himself or his court. Staley's deep and careful probing of historical detail has enabled her to reconstruct previously hidden areas of the late fourteenth-century cultural world.

One of the most valuable aspects of the book is Staley's insistence on considering manifold centres of patronage and cultural production in late fourteenth-century England. This involves her in extremely detailed and fruitful reconstructions of John of Gaunt's and Thomas of Woodstock's 'courts', which she suggests may ultimately have surpassed Richard's own court. But Staley's readings of the texts themselves are often tantalizing in their brevity: she puts forward a bold new interpretation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, for example, but deals with the text itself very quickly. She also tends to rewrite potentially resonant contexts as explanations. Staley suggests that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was commissioned by John of Gaunt as an apologia for his son's Appellant truancy, and that Gawain's regret and selfcriticism at the end of the poem mirror Henry's supposed change of heart. Her argument about Pearl - that it was commissioned by Thomas of Woodstock to mark his daughter's enclosure in a nunnery - is similarly original and yet simplifying. …

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