Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Translations of Authority in Medieval English Literature: Valuing the Vernacular

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Translations of Authority in Medieval English Literature: Valuing the Vernacular

Article excerpt

Alastair Minnis, Translations of Authority in Medieval English Literature: Valuing the Vernacular (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). xvi + 272 pp. ISBN 978-0- 521- 51594- 8. £50.00.

As the two writers cited on the back of the dustjacket attest, Alastair Minnis is 'a leading figure in contemporary transadantic medieval studies', 'the master exegete of his generation'. Any book by him will be warmly welcomed, much read, and often cited. This new volume will be no exception. As Professor Minnis makes clear (p. xi), four of the six chapters are revisions and amplifications of articles published in earlier collections; to these are added an introduction, a chapter dealing with one aspect of Margery Kempe's story, and one discussing (discursively if amusingly) the 'relics' of Chaucer's Pardoner's Prologue and Tale. More importandy, as indicated by the coverage of these two new papers, the whole study could be seen as the summation of Minnis 's predominating interests over the past twenty or more years: a glance at his papers listed in the bibliography, and others adduced in the notes, will confirm that Minnis has returned several times to the issues and texts discussed here. Dominant amongst the issues are those of fourteenth-century vernacular discussions of central doctrinal tenets, especially those of baptism, the eucharist, and the priesthood, leading from the latter to that of the ecclesiastical status of women, the relevance of terms from academic philosophy such as 'nominalism' to English texts, and the vernacular treatment of issues such as indulgences, pilgrimages, and relics. The texts that have appeared repeatedly are those of Chaucer, especially the tales of the Wife of Bath and the Pardoner, of Langland, and, less predictably, of the Lollard Walter Brut and his opponents.

As this implies, many of Minnis's ideas have already been evaluated, contested, or accepted in their earlier manifestations; some points here show minor modifications to meet queries that remain. Each of the chapters contains much for the reader to ponder, whether or not the conclusions are always found persuasive. …

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