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Writing Power in Anglo-Saxon England

Writing Power in Anglo-Saxon England: Texts, Hierarchies, Economies

Catherine A. M. Clarke
Volume: 17
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 207
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt81qz9
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  • Book Info
    Writing Power in Anglo-Saxon England
    Book Description:

    "A work of fine and nuanced intelligence... Skilled and learned readings of a number of important texts. Fluent, polished, and beautifully written." Dr Katy Cubitt, University of York. The formation and operation of systems of power and patronage in Anglo-Saxon England are currently the focus of concerted scholarly attention. This book explores how power is shaped and negotiated in later Anglo-Saxon texts, focusing in particular on how hierarchical, vertical structures are presented alongside patterns of reciprocity and economies of mutual obligation, especially within the context of patronage relationships (whether secular, spiritual, literal or symbolic). Through close analysis of a wide selection of sources in the vernacular and Latin (including the Guthlac poems of the Exeter Book, Old English verse epitaphs, the acrostic poetry of Abbo of Fleury, the Encomium Emmae Reginae and Libellus Æthelwoldi Episcopi), the study examines how texts sustain dual ways of seeing and understanding power, generating a range of imaginative possibilities along with tensions, ambiguities and instances of disguise or euphemism. It also advances new arguments about the ideology and rhetoric of power in the early medieval period. Catherine A. M. Clarke is Professor in English, University of Southampton.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-872-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    This study combines close textual analysis, a range of theoretical frameworks and attention to historical and cultural contexts to explore how power is imagined, represented and shaped in later Anglo-Saxon written sources. In particular, it identifies and examines the ways in which late Anglo-Saxon texts present structures of hierarchical or vertical relationship alongside patterns of reciprocity and economies of interaction and obligation between individuals and groups. The sources discussed throughout this book sustain double ways of seeing and understanding power, generating a range of imaginative and ideological possibilities, as well as possible tensions, ambiguities and instances of disguise or euphemism....

  6. 1 Order and Interlace: the Guthlac Poems of the Exeter Book
    (pp. 11-43)

    The two Guthlac poems of the Exeter Book form differing verse explorations of aspects of the life of the eponymous late seventh- to early eighth-century ascetic saint who settled in the East Anglian fenland, with associated homiletic material.¹ Throughout the texts there is a prominent interest in spiritual patronage, and in the structures of relationship, authority and dependency between individuals within a spiritual community. The particular relationships presented within these poems – such as those between Guthlac and his patron saint Bartholomew (especially in Guthlac A), or between Guthlac and his disciple Beccel (Guthlac B) – are crucial elements within...

  7. 2 Sites of Economy: Power and Reckoning in the Poetic Epitaphs of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
    (pp. 44-79)

    What is an epitaph? Whilst agreeing on its ‘complicated generic status’, which evolves and adapts across historical periods and contexts,¹ a number of recent studies have advanced arguments for defining the epitaph as a literary form and identifying its key elements. Scott Newstok, in his study of epitaphic writing in early modern England, suggests that the ‘here-ness’ of the epitaph is central, its ‘locative declaration’ forming the ‘core statement’ of all writing within the tradition, whether inscribed on the tomb itself or ‘re-cited and re-sited’ in other literary contexts.² Joshua Scodel regards brevity and ‘economy’ as major features of the...

  8. 3 ‘Absens ero … presens ero’: Writing the Absent Patron
    (pp. 80-111)

    Part III, Chapter 3 of the Vita Sancti Oswaldi gives an account of how Oswald, in Fleury to learn about the reformed monastic life there, is recalled to England by his dying uncle, Archbishop Oda of Canterbury.¹ The delivery of Oda’s message takes place in the public sphere of the monastery, the ‘ueredarios’ (‘messengers’) from England bringing with them ‘immensis muneribus’ (‘immense gifts’) as a material demonstration of friendship and a reminder of Oswald’s obligations to his uncle and patron.² The request for Oswald’s return is explicitly addressed to the whole of the monastic community at Fleury: ‘humili preci flagitabant...

  9. 4 Power and Performance: Authors and Patrons in late Anglo-Saxon Texts
    (pp. 112-144)

    This chapter will explore ways in which relationships between authors and patrons (whether real or imagined) are constructed in a selection of tenth and eleventh-century texts. It will look at a range of sources to examine how literary patronage, as represented in late Anglo-Saxon texts, is figured through the performance of a repertoire of roles and the adoption of different personae. These carefully-shaped and sustained textual performances allow author and patron to assume different (and often shifting) places within the hierarchies and economies of power and agency involved in literary production. These textual performances also involve complex networks of complicity...

  10. 5 Remembering Anglo-Saxon Patronage: the Libellus Æthelwoldi Episcopi and its Contexts
    (pp. 145-170)

    The Libellus Æthelwoldi Episcopi (or Libellus Æthelwoldi, or simply the Ely Libellus) is an early twelfth-century Latin translation of a collection of Old English charters which attest the lands acquired for Ely by Æthelwold during the period of the tenth-century Benedictine Reform and re-foundation of the abbey. Produced at the instigation of Hervey, first bishop of Ely, between 1109 and 1131, the Libellus Æthelwoldi both commemorates the ‘Golden Age’ of the monastic community at Ely in the late Anglo-Saxon period, and does important political work in establishing the legitimacy of the new Ely bishopric in the early twelfth century. Both...

  11. Afterword
    (pp. 171-174)

    This short concluding section will offer some reflections on themes and issues which have emerged across the chapters, and suggestions for ways in which the individual case studies within the book have developed or nuanced our understanding of power as imagined and shaped in late Anglo-Saxon texts. As signalled in the Introduction, the Anglo-Saxon texts explored here present, in their own differing ways, a dual model of power. On the one hand, the sources construct strict systems of hierarchical order and the vertical operation of power, yet they also show individuals to be enmeshed in economies of mutual obligation, interdependence...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 175-186)
  13. Index
    (pp. 187-191)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 192-194)