Book Series Cursor Mundi, vol. 14

The Presence of Medieval English Literature

Studies at the Interface of History, Author, and Text in a Selection of Middle English Literary Landmarks

Alan J. Fletcher

  • Pages: 304 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Language(s):English, Italian, Latin
  • Publication Year:2012

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-53680-4
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-54744-2
  • E-book
  • Available

Negotiations between history, author, and text in a selection of Middle English literary landmarks.


"(...) this book is full of insightful new interpretations of these complicated and marvelous texts. It succeeds in making the presence of these well-known works seem rich and strange, and adds further dimension to the critical conversations around them." (Sarah Harlan-Haughey, in: The Medieval Review 14.04.10) 

"(...) there is much to recommend this book, and particularly its constituent discussions to researchers working on the different texts they cover. Despite its loose governing theme, its treatment of each of its case studies is accomplished, informed, and fascinating: each one brings new things to the table, and there is no question that it achieves what it sets out to do, in recovering some of the forgotten contexts of (or at least positing the new light that their recovery might shed on) some celebrated medieval works." (Joanna Bellis, in: Modern Language Review, 110.3, 2015, p. 804-806)


The modern period has read its own contingent values into Middle English literature, and a modern canon of vernacular medieval literary texts has evolved as a result. While this book works with a selection of texts that have achieved such canonical status, it brings to light some of the ways in which they nevertheless resist the flattening domestications and expectations of modern taste. It illustrates how they formerly existed as constituents of a past world richer, stranger, and less familiar than much modern opinion has supposed. Thus the book aims to recuperate lost senses in which the age in which these texts were conceived and written was present within them, as well as ways in which they may have been present to their age. This twin idea of ‘presence’ is the thread that binds a series of chapters on English verse and prose written between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries together. While they may be read as discrete studies of individual literary landmarks, the chapters also entail an implicit and ramifying demonstration of the shortcomings of some modern views of what makes certain currently prized Middle English texts worth reading, and of how the vernacular literature of medieval England is retrospectively to be defined and periodized.


Alan J. Fletcher joined the School of English of the University College Dublin in 1979. Before that he taught at the Universities of Leeds and of Oxford. He is a Member of the Royal Irish Academy.



Chapter 1. Presences

Chapter 2. The Owl and the Nightingale: The Interpretative Stakes of Time, Place, and Author

Chapter 3. Sir Orfeo: The ‘Taken’ Discourses of Order and Intelligibility

Chapter 4. Pearl: The Limits of History

Chapter 5. Piers Plowman: The Essential (Ephemeral) Project

Chapter 6. The Canterbury Tales and Some Other Chaucerian Compositions: The Pursuit of Heresy and Dangerous Textual Liaisons

Chapter 7. Morte Darthur: The Endgame of Authority

Chapter 8. Location, Location, Location


Index of Persons, Places, and Texts 295