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1 - Silence in Debate: The Intellectual Nature of the Roman de Silence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 December 2023

A. S. G. Edwards
Affiliation:
University of Kent, University College, London, and King's College, London
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Summary

The history of Heldris of Cornwall’s Roman de Silence, appropriately enough, is one of centuries of apparent silence followed by decades of excited debate. From its probable thirteenth-century composition to the end of the twentieth century it left no lasting trace, but the advent of Lewis Thorpe’s edition in 1972 (and others subsequently) has generated over fifty publications at the time of writing. Most of this modern critical interest has understandably focused on the prominent issue of gender and its expression, with a spectrum of opinion that ranges from, at one end, seeing Silence as ultimately presenting a protofeminist victory of sorts for its flexibly gendered protagonist to, at the other, claiming it as a more conservative work. The second dominant tendency of critical studies has been to highlight Silence’s concern for inheritance and social hierarchy, themes aligned with that of gender. These critical tendencies thus firmly situate Silence within romance culture and the pervasive concerns about gender roles and social hierarchy with which so many romance works engage. Although there has been some discussion of the work’s intertextualities, Silence’s relationships with other forms of wider literary culture have not been analysed in detail, despite critics calling attention to some important points of comparison. This essay seeks to highlight one particular parallel by considering Silence in the context of the scholastic culture of the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries, interpreting the romance as an active participant in that culture and hence demonstrating the wider point that the genre is intimately enmeshed within apparently quite different literary contexts. This approach is especially apt given Elizabeth Archibald’s interest in Latin literature, medieval romance and gender, and her personal encouragement for my research in these areas, for which I continue to be extremely grateful; the current attempt to read them in creative dialogue is in great part inspired by her example, although of course she bears no responsibility for the results.

The intellectual culture of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was defined by the philosophical, theological and literary studies of the monastic and cathedral schools and the first universities, studies characterized particularly during this time by interest in newly available learning from antique texts and thus by the creative interplay between a wide variety of works from different eras.

Type
Chapter
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Medieval Romance, Arthurian Literature
Essays in Honour of Elizabeth Archibald
, pp. 1 - 15
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2021

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