Am I wrong in assuming that this brief chapter on Malgo (XI.7) is intended to be sarcastic? Geoffrey of Monmouth provides this self-contained biographAm I wrong in assuming that this brief chapter on Malgo (XI.7) is intended to be sarcastic? Geoffrey of Monmouth provides this self-contained biography: "Unto him succeeded Malgo, one of the comeliest men in the whole of Britain, the driver-out of many tyrants, redoubted in arms, more bountiful than others and renowned for prowess beyond compare, yet hateful in the sight of God, for his sodimitic vice. He obtained the sovereignty of the whole island, and after many exceeding deadly battles did add unto his dominions the six neighbour islands of the Ocean, to wit, Ireland, Iceland, Gothland, the Orkneys, Norway, and Denmark." The editor of this edition says much of Geoffrey's tongue-in-cheekiness, but aside from this late chapter about a powerful, wonderful, brave king who is nonetheless (or should I say "natheless"?) an evil sodimite, I didn't come across much humor in this book.
Nor much suspense or excitement or emotion. The book starts strong enough, when it discusses trolls and Lear and dungeon-dwelling concubines, but by the time it reaches Merlin's symbol-heavy prophecies, it has completely petered out. The second half, including all the stories about Arthur, is pretty much one person smiting another only to soon be smited himself, and it's rather tedious to slog through. The ancient history, which is clearly just localized adaptations of Biblical and classical Greek myths, is worth reading, but by the time Cordelia dies you can pretty much set the book aside. ...more
A most pleasurable read built upon a fantastic premise: in order to appreciate and, more importantly, to understand history, we must see it not as hisA most pleasurable read built upon a fantastic premise: in order to appreciate and, more importantly, to understand history, we must see it not as history, as facts and dates and artifacts and sweeping generalizations, but as an actual, liveable reality that once existed. To encourage such thinking, Mortimer writes of fourteenth century England as though it were possible to actually visit, conjecturing (and proving quite stylishly) that writing a travel book about the distant past is no more difficult than writing a travel book about a distant country. After all, it's no more difficult to cull together some facts and customs about Vietnam and explain what it would be like to stay at a hotel there than it would be to write about London in 1325.
Mortimer recounts some vivid imagery. A London so filthy that it's infested not only with rats but with wild pigs as well. Swollen scrofula boils that can only be healed by the patient king's divine touch. Suspected thieves who spend years in dank, dark cellars awaiting their trials. It's great stuff, and it makes me want to be able to pick up a Time Traveler's Guide to every century and country....more
I read this because, strangely, it was the only book of Anglo Saxon criticism at my local library, which isn't exactly flooded with queer theory textsI read this because, strangely, it was the only book of Anglo Saxon criticism at my local library, which isn't exactly flooded with queer theory texts. This is an oddity of a book, more a hodgepodge of essays (some of them little more than research findings) than a unified whole, an attempt to draw together and publish whatever various things Frantzen had been working on. You can tell that from the title; FROM Beowulf TO Angels in America? That's pretty lofty. It also implies that 1200 or more years of literature will be encompassed. Not so. There is some close reading of the same-sex sections of various Old English poems and chronicles. And there is also a pretty insightful reading of ANGELS IN AMERICA which made me appreciate that beloved masterpiece even more. But there's also an essay dedicated to gender confusion in opera and dance performances, a rather minute examination of medieval religious tracts and prohibitions, and some personal memoir about the Korean War. Like I said, an eccentric hodgepodge.
I'm not saying it's bad. All in all, the book is well-informed, convincing, intelligent, and accessible. It's just... strange.
And the mindset that inspired it is also quite baffling. Frantzen seems to have set out to repudiate "widespread" beliefs that medieval England was an accepting and open oasis of same-sex lovemaking. I'm not sure such claims really require a book-length rejection, since I can't imagine why anyone would actually believe that in the first place. Apparently, however, many queer theory medievalists prior to Frantzen did think just that, and Frantzen cites them with scorn. To be sure, one of the most interesting aspects of this book is the revelation of how academics can misapply poor translations, decontextualized excerpts, and shoddy research in order to prove whatever thesis they wish to make. Frantzen's book is as much an outcry against scholarly misconduct as it is a book of original criticism...more
A compilation of chapters by several authors/scholars, some of whom write more lucid and engaging prose than others. Covers roughly a thousand years iA compilation of chapters by several authors/scholars, some of whom write more lucid and engaging prose than others. Covers roughly a thousand years in England from 500 to 1500, glossing over politics, religion, economy, visual arts, and literature. Obviously, squeezing a millennium into less than three hundred pages is not an easy feat, and sometimes the text can be both dense and cursory, and frustratingly so. Some of the authors are better than others at turning the history into an intriguing narrative, but even so they're not afforded ample space. The murder of Thomas Beckett, for example, is alluded to twice, but then only receives two sentences of explanation when the actual event is covered. Still, a very worthwhile introduction to the subject....more