and their Fate
The following pages are excerpts from a book in progress, tentatively entitled London Literature, c.1310―c.1380. In this project, I examine works, primarily English ones, composed, disseminated, and read in the capital in the years immediately preceding the formation of a national literary tradition. The study (and this particular rendition) is always engaged in enacting analytical modes necessary to reformulate the literary history of late medieval England. And this current form of my fascination with Middle English as a literature of the locality, not the nation, allows me one considerable rhetorical frisson, the paradox that the metropole is, for much of the Middle Ages, just another locality.
The beginning of my study is constrained by the documentary record: until just the end of Edward I's reign, there's no surviving vernacular literature from London. I conclude at the temporal confluence of three widely acknowledged revolutions. Primary is, of course, the appearance of new "Chaucerian" literature, The Parliament of Fowls in 1381, Troilus in 1386. These productions are contemporary with the fairly abrupt demise of an older variety of written London English (M.L. Samuels's "Type II”) and the appearance of a new sort (his "Type III, ” Chaucerian English); "Type III” is first recorded in the writings of Thomas Usk c.1384―88 and in the London guild returns of 1389. 1 Finally, the very writing system changed at this moment: just after 1375, a new variety of book-hand, "Secretary," was introduced into England. This presumably occurred at Lambeth, since Secretary first appears in documents produced in the Chancery of the Archbishops of Canterbury (the wills recorded by the Prerogative Court from 1383 begin in the script). 2____________________