Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Sir Tristrem

This is the version of Tristen and Isolde from the Auchinleck manuscript. It is a typical romance telling the story of perhaps the most famous couple in medieval literature. This version includes an episode where Tristrem disguises himself as a leper in order to get close to Ysonde. Brody sees this use of leprosy as an outward sign of Tristrem's carnal nature, however that does remove the disguise from its context somewhat. Given Ysonde is at the time trying to spurn the advances of Sir Canados and begins to go insane Tristrem's attempt to be near her by adopting the disguise of a leper is more romantic than Brody would have us believe. I think this version is going to need to be compared to other versions to get a more complete idea of the role leprosy plays in the romance.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Margery Kempe

Margery Kempe, where to start? Margery Kempe and I go back a long way... I  first encountered her in my second year as an undergraduate. At the time I did not really accept how integral religion was to the medieval period and found Margery's books to be the worst kind of religious text, unashamedly spiritual, constantly didactic and slightly embarassing. Her weeping made me uncomfortable to say the least! So I was understandably less then keen to try to read Margery again, but I have come a long way in the five years since I first read her.  Though there were two extracts that involve leprosy I found the second much more interesting as it is the more personal of the two.

At the start of her second Book Margery describes how her son, 'fel into the synne of letchery' (line 7460). Her son develops a disease which is described as being like leprosy. When someone goes to his mother and tells her that her disapproval of her son's lifestyle has brough the vengence of God upon him she states that she will not pray for his recovery until he comes and prays for himself. When he does this and faithfully submits to the will of God then he and Margery pray for him to be cured and he is.

What I find interesting about this is that neither of them interpret this illness as a challenge from God, to suffer an earthly purgatory, instead both see it as a punishment from God. Indeed you might argue that if Margery's son truly bowed to God's will then he would not expect to be cured as he would accept whatever fate God granted him. Even though his disease is only described as like leprosy this story offers an interesting perspective of a mother's love conflicting with her love of God, as well as an interesting use of leprosy as a punishment for lechery.

Friday, 15 July 2011

The Summoner

There has been some scholarly debate over the Summoner from the Canterbury Tales. The General Prologue descibes the Summoner as suffering from a disease that some critics argue is leprosy. Reading the description for myself today I agree. He is pimpled, red faced and lecherous (many medical treatises argued lechery was a symptom of leprosy rather than a cause). I think I need to think about what the importance of this leperous pilgrim is. Is the leprosy Chaucer's warning to distrust the Summoner? Or was it merely a device to explain his lechery? Still the Summoner will probably be my most famous Middle English leper....which is quite cool!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Handlyng Synne

Eased myself back into Middle English this week by reading Robert Mannyng of Brunne's Handlyng Synne. This is a fourteenth century religious manual that contains stories which could be used for sermons on different sins. Found a wonderful story in the section on envy:

There once was a pair of hermits, but one of the hermits left to become an abbot. The hermit that remained was so lonely that he prayed to God to give him some company. God send the hermit a bear that both kept him company, and also herded his sheep without eating them. News of this tame bear spread far and wide, eventually reaching the abbey where the hermit's old companion was. Though he was happy his friend had found company, his monks were jealous. So they decided to kill the bear, not realising the bear was sent as a gift from God. As a result all the monks involved in the death of the bear were smitten instantly with leprosy of the most extreme form.

I know I may find few people who agree with me but I find this story really sweet!