Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Medieval English Wardship in Romance and Law

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Medieval English Wardship in Romance and Law

Article excerpt

Noel James Menuge, Medieval English Wardship in Romance and Law (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer; Rochester, NY: Boydell & Brewer, 2001). VIII + 149 pp. ISBN 0-85991-632-4. L40.00.

Wardship has been of interest to legal and social historians of the Middle Ages for some time now. Here it becomes a subject of interest for literary medievalists for the first time. Noel James Menuge successfully demonstrates that wardship is a central theme in four Middle English romances (Havelok the Dane, Beues of Hamptoun, William of Palerne, and Gamelyn) and is touched upon in others. This book presents an innovative reading of the wardship theme in these works.

Menuge adopts an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on both legal and literary texts. The methodology here emphasizes the constructed nature of legal narratives, attempting to open them up to methods of reading not dissimilar to those brought to bear on the romances. In practice, this means the juxtaposition in discussion of romances and legal cases exploring similar issues. The approach is generally fruitful, although I have reservations about the argument that a person in a legal narrative 'does not exist, for us, outside of it, and in this sense is as textual as a romance ward' (p. 94). That person's extratextual existence might not be available to us, but surely that assumed extratextual existence means that her textuality is of a different sort from that of a romance character?

For Menuge, wardship is about patriarchy as well as patrimony, and the book investigates the textual representation of the tensions that exist between a patriarchal feudal society and the family unit after the death of the patriarch. …

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