But today it was the Prioress's Tale. We are moving into the second half of the course, and now that they have had a pretty solid introduction to medieval literature, I wanted to start thinking about scholarly medievalism. I got them to read Michael Calebrese's essay (the one Eileen had a bunch of us respond to for one of BABEL's sessions at Kalamazoo last year) for its uncompromising scrutiny of the easy absolutist ethics the Prioress seems to encourage amongst readers.
Anyhoo, in thinking about this tale of blood libel against the Jews, who are said to have murdered the little Christian boy so devoutly singing his Marian hymn, I also told the story of St Hugh of Lincoln, and remembered my visit to Lincoln Cathedral, where next to the remains of his shrine, the cathedral has framed this notice and prayer:
Trumped up stories of "ritual murders" of Christian boys by Jewish communities were common throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and even much later. These fictions cost many innocent Jews their lives. Lincoln had its own legend, and the alleged victim was buried in the Cathedral in the year 1255.
Such stories do not redound to the credit of Christendom, and so we pray:
Lord, forgive what we have been,
amend what we are,
and direct what we shall be.
Perhaps it's because I'm overtired, and frankly, a little up and down in spirits at the moment, I couldn't read this prayer to the class with choking up a little. It's the sheer simplicity of the acknowledgement of wrong that gets me. Yet this often seems such a hard thing for the church to say...
But of course, in the context of Calabrese's critique of emotional absolutism, and my discussion in the lecture of affective piety, I don't really trust my emotional response here. Was it too easy?
In thinking about the Prioress, though, I kept returning to the description of her in the General Prologue, where we are told she "peyned hire to countrefete chere/ Of court, and to been estatlich of manere." So here's my question to the Chaucerians amongst you: has anyone ever suggested that the Prioress's sentimentalism is part of this performance of courtly demeanour? Do we know anything about a self-conscious fashion for this kind of piety in the Ricardian court? Is there something blindingly obvious I'm missing here? Yes, I promise I will do my own research on this soon enough, but in the meantime, what do you reckon?