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HENRYSON IN ITALY

Summaries of papers presented at the 13th International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature in Padova 22-26 July 2011


There were two very interesting sessions at the conference where Henryson figured strongly. In the first one - The Southern Neighbour - relationships between Scotland and England were discussed. The second was dedicated to Robert Henryson, and concentrated on Orpheus and Eurydice. I spoke on Seamus Heaney's translation of the Testament, and will be publishing that paper separately.

The following are notes that I took during the sessions. They are brief, incomplete, and possibly sometimes confusing, but I hope they serve to give a flavour of the papers that were presented.

It is hoped that there will be a number of publications from the conference, so you will be able to read the complete texts.

The Southern Neighbour

Priscilla Bawcutt: ‘Intercommuning’: Cultural Relationships between Scotland and England in the Late Middle Ages

There was Anglo-Scottish flying in Latin in the Scotichronicon after Bannockburn. English jubiliation after Scottish defeat at Flodden. ‘Intercommuning’ mentioned in historical documents, and also in Chaucer. Much travel between Scotland and England for sports, trade and marriages. Pilgrimages too. Dunbar as ‘fenyeit freir’ preached at Darlington and Canterbury. John Ireland was James III’s ambassador to England and France. Familiar with Troylus – first person to speak of the triumvirate of Chaucer, Gower and Lydgate. Latter half of 15th century courts of Europe full of exiles owing to civil war. Duke of Albany at English court. Richard Holland fled Scotland at fall of Douglases and served Edward IV and Richard III. Shared interest and values far outweighed any other crude differences. Literary movements through networks. Profitable for scholars to look at these. John Mair taught in Paris and St Andrews. Lived in Cambridge before going to Paris. Carver’s motets and masses said to be influenced by those in Eton Songbook. Gavin Douglas friend of Polydore Vergil – took different attitudes to Mair’s origin myths – could be expanded on. Evidence growing for circulation of Caxton’s prints in Scotland. Scottish manuscripts often copies of printed Caxton texts. Running controversies of Henryson’s knowledge of Caxton’s Fables. Books known are tiny percentage of Caxton’s prints. Douglas may have read Chaucer in Caxton print rather than manuscript. Devotional Contemplation of Sinners (1499 Winkin de Woord) from Scotland.

Points from the floor: Varying strengths of the kingdoms in 14th and 15th centuries? Protector Somerset’s letter. James III’s attempts at rapprochement with Henry IV and Blind Hary’s denunciation of this. Strong Stuart kings when English were turmoiled in Wars of the Roses. Wars of Independence very clear in memory in 14th century. Evidence from non-chronicle writers more detached than historical writers. Hary’s Wallace printed 1509 (death of Henry VIII).

Iain Macleod Higgins (University of Victoria, Canada): All Books and New Beginnings: Henryson’s use of Chaucer

Kingis Quair and Testament of Cresseid both respond to Chaucer. Henryson inserts his ‘tragedie’ into Chaucer’s Book V. Calls it ‘tragedie’, ‘narratioun’ and ‘ballat schort’, thus questioning the forms and interrogating them. One sixth of Henryson is designed to reframing the reader’s response. Chaucer introduces Cresseid by saying she will betray Troylus before she dies (!), so she is framed for the reader. Compare Henryson’s gods with Chaucer’s Troylus ascending through the spheres after death. Fictive opening to Henryson. FICTIO stanza, and ‘Quha wait gif all that Chauceir wrait wes trew’ all conspire to point the fictionality. Henryson’s poem striking a cold narrative blow against Cresseid – as in northern justice in Piers Plowman. Poem about judgement is also of judgement. English writers’ relationship with Chaucer is ‘filiation’, while that of Scottish writers is ‘affiliation’. Because Henryson is such a smooth writer we may overlook how adacious he actually is.

Points from the floor: Douglas’s language about Dido in Book IV of Eneados very similar to Henryson’s about Cresseid. Douglas’s work influenced by Virgil and Ovid as well as Chaucer.

 Murat Ogutcu (Hacettepe University, Ankara, Turkey): A Tale of Two Nations: Scotland and England: Chaucer, Henryson, Shakespeare, Troilus and Criseyde

Shakespeare’s version comments on the English and Scottish differences. Henryson gives the Scottish and religious dimension. Ogutcu agrees with Higgins (above) that Cresseid was not properly punished. Is Testament a Scottish work at all? Very much in the shade of Chaucer. Was Testament read aloud to women in the Scottish court? Shakespeare creates a clearly effeminate Achilles. Chapman dedicated his Iliad to Essex. Language of disease in Shakespeare’s Troilus. James VI/I may have enjoyed Shakespeare’s misogynistic portrayal of Cressida assuming he knew Henryson’s poem. Shakespeare unconsciously (?) uniting the two poems.

Points from the floor: What did Shakespeare take from Henryson rather than from Chaucer? There is another play by The Admiral’s Men called Troilus and Cressida. Cressida’s fate pretty widely diffused by 16th century. How did the Testament travel south? Often first surviving text from Scotland is from an English print. Could Shakespeare’s Lover’s Complaint be reminiscent of Henryson? Written in rhyme royal, has framings, male character reminiscent of Diomede and woman of Cresseid. Celebration (?) of Cresseid in 16th century literature as woman who consummated love? Like the Magdalen figure?

Robert Henryson Session

Beatrice Mameli (Università degli Studi di Padova): ‘Quhar art thou gane my luf erudices?’: Robert Henryson and his Orpheus

We know very little about the characters by the end of the poem. Developed from Boethius’s Orpheus through Trivet. Henryson appears to give a good deal of information about Orpheus but actually quite ambiguous. Orpheus’s ancestry explains his qualities as fair and wise and generous. Orpheus being seduced by Beatrice does not suggest wisdom. Quest for Eurydice does not seem particularly heroic. Starting point as ‘Watling Street’, whether the road from London or the Milky Way not made clear. Secrets of the music of the spheres are in fact basic musical theory. Probably known by the readership of the time. Was Henryson mocking his readers here, or mocking Orpheus who is ‘discovering’ such common knowledge? Orpheus hardly speaks in hell – concentrates more on the damned souls – what of his famed eloquence? Lady proposing to hero is not as unexpected as might be thought. Seen in other romances. Eurydice not destined for heaven in Henryson. Defined as sensual part of the soul. All we know about her is her bodily appearance. She runs barefoot, as in Ovide Moralisé. Aristeus as human virtue accords with Trivet’s commentary. Name derives from superlative of Greek adjective meaning ‘good’. Irony – dialogue between Orpheus and Eurydice in hell. He asks her about her lost beauty, but she doesn’t answer him. And Pluto says that she is perfectly able to go back to the world, which is of course impossible.

Point from the floor: Compare Orpheus’s supposed learning which is actually common knowledge and Eurydice’s ‘thou sall know’ as a real-er kind of knowledge. Henryson confesses his own ignorance of singing after relating all the knowledge of music that he has just had explained. What kind of skill sets would Henryson’s audience have? Need to look at the education of the time.

Ian Johnson (University of St Andrews): The Poetic Heights of Moralising and Pedantry in Robert Henryson’s Orpheus and Eurydice

Awkward bridging of narratio and moralitas. Orpheus the bereaved lover and also the intellectual part of the soul. Henryson’s reader? How to read Orpheus? How to live, how to be saved, how to be good, how to interpret and judge etc etc through reading. What is taught Boethianism? Readers of Langlands’ Piers Plowman had to cope with continually moving goalposts. In Orpheus, reader flits among a number of bodies of knowledge. This was a routine challenge for the schooled reader. What bothers us about the lack of smoothness of Orpheus may not have been a problem for Henryson’s original reader. In the original Orpheus can stop steams and move trees. Can bring savage men back to normal life. In his description of his journey Henryson is pointing out that in order to look up to the summum bonum, Orpheus must disentangle himself from the briars of the will. When Eurydice runs into the bushes (in Trivet she is in a meadow) Aristeus is hiding there looking after beasts. (Orpheus too shelters in thickets.)) Aristeus’s attempted rape prompts Eurydice to flee whereupon she is bitten by a venomous snake and dies. Moralitas at odd with elements of the narratio. Henrysonian readers appear to be able to hold contradictory attitudes in their minds at the same time. We should not relegate Orpheus to juvenilia just because we find it challenging or uneven. We are reading it as modern readers rather than as Henryson’s readers.

Anne McKim (University of Waikato, New Zealand): Some recurrent language patterns, and variations, in Older Scots

Shifts in the use of ‘syne’ and ‘than’ in OS. Usually found at the beginning of sentences introducing new narrative aspects. Barbour uses ‘syne’ much more often than ‘than’. Used to coordinate narrative. Blind Hary, however, more often uses ‘than’, especially in clause initial position. Causal connection established. In Rauf Coilyear, ‘syne’ and ‘than’ used interchangeably, but also the ’quhan ... than’ construction. In Henryson ‘syne’ and ‘than' both appear in clause initial and initial stanza forms. Evidence that ‘syne’ gives way to increasing use of ‘than’ after Barbour. The example of ‘syne’ in Testament (line 593) was changed to ‘than’ in Thynne’s version. In Orpheus ‘than’ tends to be followed by a proper noun. More likely to use ‘than’ to begin a stanza. ‘Syne’ most commonly followed by a verb. Sometimes ‘syne’ used for alliteration, ‘than’ for assonance., but not always. In the Testament variety is not sought. Uses ‘than’ to begin stanzas on 50% of occasions; in Fables ‘syne’ in greater use. ‘Syne’ most followed by verb. ‘Than’ preferred before subject’. ‘Syne’ used alliteratively, but not exclusively. Why the variety? Could be chronology, or simply for variety. ‘Than’ came to predominate in 15th century. ‘Quhen ... than’ became very popular.

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