Literature and Theatre

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Elisa Narin van Court

The fourteenth-century alliterative narrative The Siege of Jerusalemhas recently begun to generate the kind of interest associated with more canonical Middle English works. Scholarly studies have emerged to fill the lacunae of response and readings, and a new edition is forthcoming. This chapter argues that this new attention to Jerusalem is well deserved and long overdue, inhibited more by scholarly distaste for the poem's perceived relentless and violent anti-Judaism, than by any intrinsic lack of literary or cultural value. The argument concerning the poem is predicated on a recuperative reading in another sense of the word. It suggests that the virulent anti-Judaism from which scholars recoil is neither as unambiguous nor singular as is commonly claimed.

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Shakespeare’s genius

Hamlet, adaptation and the work of following

John J. Joughin

The survival of William Shakespeare's plays continues to demonstrate that literature means different things to different people in different contexts. During the course of Hamlet, the attempted adaptation might be cast as an act of narration in which Hamlet the proto-intellectual will clarify the act of sovereign succession and rewrite the official history. Theatrical adaptation is arguably 'less constrained' than other modes of interpretation. The act of inheritance or witness, the aesthetic contract by which Hamlet and humanism seem bound, actually remarks nothing more or less than the inaugural aporia of intellectual life. Heiddeger's remarks on 'The origin of the work of art' offer us a more 'generalised thinking of the Kantian notion of genius', and in doing so help tease out the historical implications of exemplary artworks.

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Christopher Morgan

This chapter is concerned with looking through that change in vocabulary and into the more exact nature of R. S. Thomas's struggle with the machine and, finally, into his ideas concerning pure science. There are a handful of poems in which, with William Wordsworth, Thomas envisions a possible unity between applied science and poetry. The chapter examines these in detail. To contextualise Thomas's position, many of the 'objections' to applied science are echoed by his Welsh contemporary, the poet David James Jones, most often referred to by his bardic name of Gwenallt. The chapter discusses these objections. It looks briefly at one further implication for Thomas of the machine's destruction of what he sees as a more ancient relationship between humankind and the earth. The chapter closes by examining Thomas's use of irony in the later poems on applied science.

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Saying the unsayable

Identities in crisis in the early novels of Marie Darrieussecq

Shirley Jordan

When Marie Darrieussecq's first novel Truismes exploded on to the French literary scene, it was clear that she was a young writer intent on taking the reader to disturbing places. Truismes launched the single-minded fascination with identity crises and altered states which would be confirmed by the subsequent novels, Naissance des fantômes and Le Mal de mer. Although in this first novel feminine identity is explored within an oppressive, patriarchal context, the following works constitute much more elliptical examinations of the self in crisis with no overtly political dimension and Darrieussecq's ambitions are less ideological than literary. This chapter focuses on three themes: monstrous bodies, missing others and fantastic landscapes. It suggests that the heroine's porcine transformations keep the struggle over the meanings of the female body firmly at the centre of the complex text.

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Romancing the East

Greeks and Saracens inGuy of Warwick

Rebecca Wilcox

The fourteenth-century popular romance Guy of Warwick engages contemporary socio-political concerns in critical and transformative ways. Guy's fantastic reworking of England's past through its titular hero both recognises England's historic culpabilities in its interactions with other countries and transforms these culpabilities into redeeming alternative possibilities for remembering the past and for performing the future. This chapter argues that at the centre of each of Guy's two cycles, the hero finds himself on a formative adventure in a fantastically imagined East; Guy devotes so much narrative attention to the East because the romance responds to and reimagines the West's conflicts with the East during the Crusades. Guy simultaneously asserts Latin dominance in both Christian and Muslim settings and rejects the most egregious moral error of the Crusades—the sack of Constantinople—by creating an alternative outcome in which the hero chooses not to seize control of the Byzantine Empire.

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Replaying history

Reading Close Combat

Barry Atkins

This chapter explores two distinct characteristics that can be found in a game such as Close Combat. Firstly it looks at it in relation to the more general sub-genre of game-fictions, the real-time strategy game, to which it belongs. Then it considers it in terms of its reference to other historical texts that focus on military matters, and other texts sometimes labelled ‘counterfactual’ historical works. In looking at this game-fiction as a specifically historical text, the chapter concentrates on the ways in which Close Combat attempts to negotiate two ambitions that would seem to be incompatible with one another. On the one hand, Close Combat attempts to address the desire for a level of scholarship comparable to that which informs the conventional historical work — it must be ‘accurate’, its attention to detail must satisfy an audience already likely to be conversant with the period in which it is set, its reference must always be to the historical record. On the other hand, this is not a narrative history or a historical documentary, it is a game-fiction. It depends on its ability not only to reflect or iterate historical detail from a supposedly ‘objective’ position (with its fixed distance reflecting that adopted by a certain type of military historian who concentrates on the details of the hardware over the human story), but for its most basic readability on its potential for departure from the historical record.

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Jonathan Atkin

Opposition to the Great War took many forms. Of a wartime total of 3,964 conscientious objectors referred to the adjudicating Pelham Committee by local tribunals, 1,716 declared themselves Christadelphians and hence possessed a religious objection to the war. There existed, of course, other denominations of religious opposition within the almost 4,000 declared conscientious objectors in Great Britain – in particular the Quakers. It is worth pointing out how even within the ‘organised’ forms of anti-war protest, there was a great variety of personal response. While religion of all denominations played a large part in determining responses to the war, both for and against, in many cases the boundaries between ‘recognised’ opposition and humanistic anti-war reaction could become blurred. There were individuals who exhibited a drier, more ‘rational’ and (especially) moral stance in relation to the war. Some examples show that the existence of a moral element to objection to war and military compulsion was not only documented in post-war studies but also in contemporary publications.

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R. S. Thomas

Identity, environment, and deity

Christopher Morgan

Controversial poet Ronald Stuart Thomas was considered to be one of the leading writers of the twentieth century. This book, in three parts, interprets the development of a major theme over Thomas's twenty-seven volumes, probing particular themes and poems with a meticulous insight. The themes of identity, environment, and deity treated reflect the major preoccupations of his life and work. The book presents a comprehensive examination of these major themes as they occur across Thomas's substantial oeuvre, while providing an expanded frame within which the considerable complexity of Thomas's work can be explored. It suggests that such poetic explorations and revelations of identity provide the prima materia of the poetry and form an underlying foundation to Thomas's poetry viewed as a single body of work. Thomas's treatment of the natural world, in particular the theology of nature mysticism vital to much of his work, is then discussed. The book also looks closely at Thomas's increasing preoccupation with science. It explores his philosophical concern with a scientific register for poetry, his own experimentation with that register, his subtle ambivalence towards applied technology, his ongoing critique of 'the machine', and his view of modern physics. Finally, examining Thomas's 'religious poetry', the book re-focuses on the exact nature of his poetic approach to a 'theology of experience' as reflected in his 'mythic' and 'via negativa' modes. It highlights Thomas's 'reconfiguring' of theology, that is, his insistence on the central validity and importance of individual spiritual experience, both as absence and as presence.

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Puzzling out the fathers

Sibylle Lacan’s Un père: puzzle

Elizabeth Fallaize

Sibylle Lacan's text Un père, published in 1994, bears the subtitle 'puzzle', a term which the author describes as referring primarily to the fragmented nature of her writing. However, it applies equally well to the subject of her text: the question of what kind of father Jacques Lacan represented for her is a puzzle wrestled with throughout the text. In writing and publishing her text, Sibylle Lacan publicly asserts her name and her relation to her father, filling the gap, the missing piece in Who's Who. Sibylle Lacan's Un père, Elisabeth Roudinesco's Jacques Lacan and Jacques Lacan's nom-du-père become embroiled in an intertextual whirl in which notions of paternity, origins and authority lose their footing. Seen in this light, however, Sibylle's puzzle of a text escapes the reduction to a simple confirmation of her father's intellectual legacy.

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Putting the pulp into fiction

The lump-child and its parents in The King of Tars

Jane Gilbert

The central figure of the Middle English popular romance known as The King of Tars (hereafter KT) — a formless lump of flesh born instead of a child — defines a certain view of popular literature. The birth is an outrageously sensationalist event; the ideological message conveyed by its subsequent transformation into a human being through baptism is simplistic, vulgar and racist. This chapter concentrates on the treatment of the lump in order to show how its treatment throws into relief the different configurations of paternity and maternity, of gender roles and of religious politics put forward in a range of re-tellings.