Medieval Ghost Stories: miracula, mirabilia, prodigiosa (August 15, 2018)

Cardiff Medieval and Early Modern Reading Group


Ghost, spectre, wraith, spirit, shade, spook, phantom, apparition, poltergeist, bogey, haint – the profusion of terms, with their different origins and linguistic histories, with sometimes distinct but often overlapping meanings, testifies to a continuing, evolving but seemingly fundamental anxiety concerned with the possibility of an afterlife and, more specifically, the idea of a restless soul or spirit of the deceased. From the vapours of Homer’s Odyssey to Plutarch’s account of the ghost of a murdered man, haunting the baths at Chaeronea, whose groans and shrieks caused terror amongst the people, or from the ghost of Hamlet’s murdered father urging vengeance to Sweet William’s Ghost (Child Ballad 77), begging his still-alive fiancée to free him from his promise to marry her, literary ghost stories have taken a plethora of forms and functions.

Medieval ghost stories are both like and unlike earlier and later spectral traditions. Predominantly taking the form of unquiet…

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King Lear’s Endings: What Makes A Tragedy? (18th July)

Cardiff Medieval and Early Modern Reading Group

By Richard Davies

Cordelia deathTextual Provenance and Problematic Versions

‘King Lear presents the most fascinating, important and contentious textual issues of the entire Shakespeare canon. The play exists in two early authoritative texts, the Quarto (Q1) of 1608 and the Folio (F) of 1623. For many years, it was presumed that each text was an imperfect and incomplete version of a lost, longer original. Consequently, King Lear was usually printed in a “conflated” text: that is, in an attempt to give readers and audiences as many as possible of Shakespeare’s words, editors combined the two texts into a version of the play that was longer than either of the early texts’.[1]

These opening lines from the textual introduction to the play in The Norton Shakespeare provides an appropriate overview of the scale of task we are presented with when we consider the textual provenance of King Lear. Why is…

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Arthurian Masques in the Seventeenth Century: Ben Jonson and John Dryden (27th June)

Cardiff Medieval and Early Modern Reading Group

This month we are looking at two Arthurian masques from either end of the seventeenth century. The first is Ben Jonson’s Speeches at Prince Henry’s Barriers (1610) and the second is the masque that ends John Dryden’s Arthurian semi-opera, King Arthur; OR The British Worthy (1691).

Jonson and Dryden were among the preeminent writers of their days, with both writing for their respective kings, James VI of Scotland and I of England and Charles II. Both also wrote dramatic Arthurian texts, though neither was written for the king you might expect. Jonson’s Speecheswas written on the occasion of James’ eldest son, Prince Henry, being invested as the Prince of Wales, while Dryden’s semi-opera was eventually performed for William III, of whom Dryden disapproved, despite the text originally being meant to honour Charles II, and then James II.

Jonson and Dryden had both held ambitions of writing an Arthurian epic…

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The Canterbury Tales: Fifteenth-Century Continuations and Additions (23rd May)

Cardiff Medieval and Early Modern Reading Group

Next Meeting: 23rd May 2018 / Room 2.47 / 3-5pm

By Rebecca Newby

Picture1.pngDetail of a miniature of Lydgate and pilgrims on the road to Canterbury, at the beginning of the prologue to the Siege of Thebes. Attributed to Gerard Horenbout. c. 1516-1523. British Library MS Royal 18 D II f. 148.

Introduction: ‘Hurlewaynes meyné’

When all this fressh feleship were com to Caunterbury, | As ye have herd tofore, with tales glad and mery, | Som of sotill centence, of vertu and of lore, | And som of other myrthes for hem that hold no store | Of wisdom, ne of holynes, ne of chivalry, | Nether of vertuouse matere, but to foly | Leyd wit and lustes all, to such japes | As Hurlewaynes meyné in every hegg that capes | Thurh unstabill mynde, right as the leves grene | Stonden ageyn the weder, right so by hem…

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King Arthur and Glastonbury (18th April)

Cardiff Medieval and Early Modern Reading Group

Next Meeting: 18th April 2018 / Room 3.62 / 3-5pm

Glastonbury is a village situated in a secluded spot in the marshes, though it can be reached both on horseback and on foot. It affords pleasure neither by its situation nor by its beauty.[1]

Located in Somerset, Glastonbury Abbey is a site of popular myth and legend. In the Middle Ages, the Abbey claimed to have been founded by Joseph of Arimathea, and it is also the legendary burial site of King Arthur.

Historiography and Hagiography

Glastonbury Abbey was the subject of several medieval histories, and it was also associated with various saints. In the 1129, the monks at Glastonbury commissioned William of Malmesbury to write the official history of the abbey, as well as the life of Saint Dunstan, who was the first abbot of Glastonbury (and later became the Bishop of Worcester, Bishop of London, and Archbishop…

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The Life of St Margaret of Antioch in Middle English (31st Jan 2018)

Cardiff Medieval and Early Modern Reading Group

Next Meeting: 29th January 2018 – Room 2.46 – 3pm-5pm

By Megan Leitch

StMargaret&DragonDetail of a miniature of St Margaret emerging from the dragon, from the Breviary of Queen Isabella of Castile, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1497, British Library Add MS 18851, f. 406v

They do not die easily, these zealous adolescents […] who are flayed and burned and drowned and maimed and shaved and insulted and disemboweled and roasted and have their tongues and breasts torn off, their guts and bones exposed, and are then proposed to, whereupon they answer spiritedly: no. Their endurance is superhuman – indeed, surreal. They survive ordeals that would kill any of us ten times over. Yet there is a moment of truth that no saint survives, for the coup de grâce is, most often, decapitation.

– Sheila Delany, Impolitic Bodies: Poetry, Saints and Society in Fifteenth-Century England: The Work of Osbern Bokenham (OUP…

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Mischief and Magic: The Fairy King Oberon and Otherworld Encounters

Cardiff Medieval and Early Modern Reading Group

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Image: ‘Oberon and Puck’, Kenny Meadows (1846), from the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive.

Take heed the Queen come not within his sight,
For Oberon is passing fell and wroth

(A Midsummer Night’s Dream, II.i.19-20)

The King of the Fairies features in late medieval and early modern literature as a figure of mischief and mayhem, most often going by the name of Oberon. He is a commanding figure throughout his textual history, and one that Helen Cooper describes as a ‘judge or arbiter, though his arbitration may show more of arbitrariness than of justice’.[1] Romances explore his magical influence, and the ways in which his otherworldly fairly kingdom interacts with, and is encountered by, the more mundane world. This month, we are reading a selection of poetry, prose and drama from the fourteenth century to the late sixteenth, in which the King of the Fairies can be…

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