Monday, May 10, 2021

Monday at Kalamazoo

Today's Tolkien session, sponsored by the Marquette University Archives where many of his papers are kept, was on Tolkien and manuscripts. I expected something esoteric, and was delighted by the lucidity of the papers. One was a fairly light overview of racial and class dialects of English in The Lord of the Rings, viewed as if it were a historical manuscript; the other was a particularly virtuosic account of particularly viruosic actual medieval scholarship, showing how Tolkien used scribal letterforms and spellings to demonstrate that a particular Anglo-Saxon text was a 13th-century copy of a work composed around the 9th century. That he could analyze both composition and scribal dates at once without getting muddled was particularly impressive.

After that I hung around for part of a session on King Lear, because at least that's a work I know, and, indeed, if I had not known it I would not have been able to follow the papers. You'd think Shakespeare would be outside of the borders of medieval studies, but apparently not: there's a thriving Shakespeare track here. One of the papers had actual medieval leanings, though: it was on the Fool's prophecy with its mind-tickling final line, "This prophecy Merlin shall make, for I live before his time." The author showed the prophecy as deriving from a tradition of Merlinesque prophetic texts.

After that I had to get off for other things, but I'll be back tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. The key to understanding the Fool's remark, "I live before his time," is that the Elizabethan-Jacobean stage allowed actors occasionally to narrate as well as act their characters, in order to make things clear to an audience watching a rapidly performed drama without access themselves to texts that they could go back and check, etc. It's as if the actor were stepping, for a moment, out of the play and saying, "By the way, my character lives before Merlin was born."

    S. L. Bethell's little book Shakespeare and the Popular Dramatic Tradition (intro by T. S. Eliot) is excellent on such things, and I'm thankful that I read the book before I had taught Shakespeare courses very much.

    Dale Nelson