“The moves may change, but the groove remains”: Old Men Grooving and the Joy of Dance

I seem to exist in two utterly different worlds. My name is Bret Jones. I am a PhD student in the Drama Department at Queen Mary. I am also a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent with the dance group Old Men Grooving (OMG), a group of older guys who are reclaiming dance and getting back our groove. This was not a designed career move. We had been put together for an internet commercial for Christmas jumpers for a national retailer. The next thing I knew, the video had gone viral. Something about the incongruity of older guys – ‘dads’ – doing a form of Hip Hop seemed to have resonated. The decision to go on Britain’s Got Talent was unexpected. One of the original guys became injured, and we got a new member who was a friend of one of the existing group. We all had some kind of dance background, in clubs, or competitions, or a bit of performing. Some of the group danced in Hip Hop clubs in the 1980s and 1990s, when many of the moves you see in these young dance crews were invented and developed. What is often missing is what we can bring – the ‘feel’, the ‘groove’. We dance because the music tells us to. The groove is who we are.

Of course, Britain’s Got Talent plunges us into the very depths of popular culture, but what is clear is just how complex and rich this culture – musically, kinaesthetically, and emotionally – actually is. It has been three weeks since our audition was broadcast, and the YouTube video has reached over 15 million hits:

We’ve had to jump on board the Facebook wagon to help spread the word. After all, Britain’s Got Talent does require audience support. The ‘feel good’ factor that seems to be very much a part of the response is actually a connection to something very profound within people. The younger audiences seem to like ‘Dad dancing’ done by guys who actually can dance and know how to express our own groove. The older audiences seem to identify with that love of dance that they once had, but that never really died. It’s still there. We’ve even created a little ‘Dad Dance’ that people can learn and join in with us:

The Anglo-American culture seems to relegate dance to the young, but this is not true in other cultures. We, in OMG, remember what it was like to dance in clubs and what that dancing meant to us as individuals, but also to the larger community. Dancing can help bond us, as well as be a means of personal expression. We have at times been humbled by the responses. We recently had a comment by a woman who lives in chronic pain, but who said that we had helped to lift her spirits. Yes, we are out there to have fun, but to have our dancing touch people in profound ways has been very moving.

My own dance background is in older forms like American rhythm tap and Lindy Hop, Swing, etc. However, this is directly related to later forms of African American dance, such as Hip Hop. Still, it has been a learning curve as a dancer. As hard as that has been, it has also been a joy. That, I think, lies at the heart of it. We are reclaiming dance as part of who we were and as part of who we still are. The moves may change over time, but the groove remains. We feel as young as ever when we dance, and so do the people who watch us. Unlike some of the young dance crews, we don’t dance at the audience. We share our joy with them; and they share their surprise and joy with us. We are both equally validated. This has engaged both body and soul, and although the body may ache at times, the soul is soaring. We need the support of all people, young and old, so that we can continue to reclaim dance for everyone, to make dancing part of our own continuing development as human beings, to embody and to share joy. In the end, it’s about joy.

Video: Digital Humanities Lecture – Jonathan Hope, ‘Books in space: hyper-dimensional reading’

On April 29th 2015, Professor Jonathan Hope (Strathclyde) delivered our Annual Digital Humanities Lecture on ‘Books in space: hyper-dimensional reading’. The lecture can be watched in full below:

Digital tools allow us to ‘read’ vastly more text than any human could manage in a lifetime. They also allow us to make comparisons between texts, genres, and periods based on projections of those books into multi-dimensional spaces. Some have hailed the advent of ‘culturomics’ – but what kind of ‘reading’ is this, and how can we ‘read’ spaces which are beyond the imaginative capacity of human minds? I’ll consider the promise, and the opportunities, of digital methods applied to large collections of texts – and I’ll also consider how these tools and methods might change the nature of our object of study. Most of my examples will be drawn from Shakespeare and the Early Modern period.

Jonathan Hope is Professor of Literary Linguistics at Strathclyde University in Glasgow. His research has consistently attempted to bring insights and techniques from linguistics to bear on literature. He has published Shakespeare’s Grammar, a systematic descriptive grammar of Shakespeare’s language, aimed at editors and literary scholars, and Shakespeare and Language, which represents the next step in this process, as it attempts to historicise concepts of language (now and in Shakespeare’s time).

In the Digital Humanities, he has been working since 2003 collaboratively with Michael Witmore and researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison in experimenting with the use of a computerised text analysis program, Docuscope, on Shakespeare’s texts. In 2012, he was invited by the Folger Shakespeare Library to direct a Summer Institute in Digital Humanities, funded by the NEH. The Institute brought together 20 Renaissance scholars, at varying stages of their careers, and with varying amounts of digital humanities experience, to the Folger for three weeks, to work with an outstanding group of visiting faculty on the practicalities and, most importantly, the theorisation of digital humanities in research into the Renaissance. The second iteration of this Institute will take place summer 2015.

His project, Visualising English Print brings together computer scientists and literary scholars as partners. It will break new ground in computational science, developing new techniques that better support humanist thinking. They aim to innovate in the literary sphere, showing how the introduction of computational thinking and the new tools they develop for applying it can be used to lead to new understandings of literature, language, and their development.

Tips from Prize-Winners

We are delighted to announce that three of our academics have recently been recognised in the QMSU’s Teaching Awards. Dr Natalie Pollard won the Postgraduate Teaching Award (for her teaching on the MA module ‘Forms of Modernism’); Professor Julia Boffey won the Postgraduate Research Supervisor of the Year Award; and Dr Sam McBean won the Assessment and Feedback Champion Award.

Here, the three prize winners give their top tips for success:

Dr Natalie Pollard (on what makes for an effective MA class)

  • Interpretation, critique and dialogue as live interaction – not lonely brow-scratching! Complex ideas are read together as part of everyday life, and the social stakes of what we say and do. ​
  • A space of intellectual and creative risk-taking – of ‘serious play!’ – where learning is mutual and surprising.
  • Most important of all is the good – the really good – conversation.

Dr Sam McBean (on what makes good feedback)

  • Point to the strengths

I always try to start my feedback by summarizing for the student what I got from their piece – what the argument was, what points were made. I think it is important to let students know what stands out about their work and what they’ve managed to most clearly convey to their reader. Sometimes we might think of feedback as constructive criticism but it is just as important to outline what a piece of writing has achieved. From my experience, students respond to reading what it is that was successful about their writing and this helps them to model their future assignments on what has worked in the past.

  • There’s always room for improvement

No assignment is perfect! And it shouldn’t be. Students who score a 2:2 should get clear feedback on what they need to do to reach that 2:1; students who score a 2:1 should be able to understand what they need to do to get that 1st; and students who get a 1st should get feedback on how to edge their work into MA level or even towards publication. In my feedback I always try to give clear pointers on how a piece’s strengths might be brought out. For example, while I try to explain what might not have worked as well, I also often tell students where certain parts of their writing edged into a higher grade point. This gives them clear direction on not only what was less successful but also examples from their own work of what could be developed into stronger future work.

  • The feedback is in the detail

Students are always told to “evidence” their claims in their work – close reading, close reading, close reading! I think the same applies to lecturers when it comes to feedback. I always try to evidence my feedback by pointing to particular examples in students’ work, being clear about what I think works or where improvements could be made. Just like I tell my students to avoid vague language in their work, I try to aim for clarity in my feedback. It is through attention to detail that I think students can really achieve an understanding of their grade and the ability to work towards improving their critical writing skills.

Professor Julia Boffey (on what makes an effective PGR Supervisor)

  • Work *with* students to find and shape a worthwhile topic that will interest both them and you, and will enable them to play to their strengths
  • Keep in touch with them, even (perhaps especially?) during periods when they may not be producing written work for discussion
  • Keep them thinking about life beyond the PhD, as well as about completing it (what will they want to do next? how best can they be preparing for this during the PhD? what kinds of contacts/activities/training will help them prepare for what comes next?)

You can read more about the QMSU Teaching awards on their website.

English Studies: The State of the Discipline, Past, Present, and Future

Perhaps all I wanted to do was to confide or confirm my taste (probably unconditional) for literature, more precisely for literary writing. Not that I like literature in general, nor that I prefer it to something else, to philosophy, for example, as they suppose who ultimately discern neither one nor the other. Not that I want to reduce everything to it, especially not philosophy. Literature I could, fundamentally, do without, in fact, rather easily. If I had to retire to an island, it would be particularly history books, memoirs, that I would doubtless take with me, and that I would read in my own way, perhaps to make literature out of them, unless it would be the other way round, and this would be true for other books (art, philosophy, religion, human or natural sciences, law, etc.). But if, without liking literature in general and for its own sake, I like something about it, which above all cannot be reduced to some aesthetic quality, to some source of formal pleasure, this would be in place of the secret. In place of an absolute secret. There would be the passion. There is no passion without secret, this very secret, indeed no secret without this passion. In place of the secret: there where nevertheless everything is said and what remains is nothing – but the remainder, not even of literature.

–   Jacques Derrida, ‘Passions: “An Oblique Offering”’, trans. David Wood, in Derrida, On the Name, ed. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 27-28

Less well-known than his more famous (and frequently bowdlerized) elaborations of ‘textuality’, this formulation of Derrida’s pertaining to ‘literary writing’ articulates an unconditional relation to such writing which would put some pressure on familiar historical attempts to ‘defend’ literature qua sub-field of the ‘humanities’. If the homology isn’t hubristic, a similar concern lies behind our attempt, in this book, to bring together a collection of approaches to the discipline of English Studies which affirm literature in all its difference.

English StudiesEnglish Studies: The State of the Discipline, Past, Present, and Future, is a text which hopes to articulate something of what is affirmed by the singular investments made in this subject by its practitioners, whilst avoiding the good conscience and defensive commonplaces found in the frequently-reductive journalism on the topic. The last hundred or so years of literary scholarship (and yes, ‘theory’) have given the lie to the claim that our wing (or crypt) of the humanities must or can somehow be ‘defended’; for who could presume to ‘defend’ something so dangerous, so enigmatically performative (and performatively enigmatic), as literature?

The book comprises a sequence of essays – organized, with a little licence, around the idea of the ‘past’, ‘present’, and ‘future’ of the discipline – which cohere around the necessity not of intervening on behalf of the discipline, but gesturing toward some of the ways in which this intervention is constitutive of the discipline. Accordingly, the publicity material for the book will tell you that it ‘[Brings] together a proposal for English to be understood as a “boundary practice”; an exploration of the study-guide genre; an account of Derrida’s “the university without condition”; a consideration of how the subject might negotiate current technological changes and government interventions; the dilemma of cognitive literary criticism; a case study of English and “employability”; and the relationship between English in Higher Education and Secondary Education’. Nowhere in this collection is the ‘identity’ of the subject taken as read; indeed, an interrogation of this putative identity is shown to be methodologically fundamental to the affirmations of English Studies we find here. At some remove from ponderous debates about ‘canon’ (which take as read an idea of the discipline’s unwavering formal interior), and equally apart from insolent attempts to define the ‘essence’ of literature, the essays collected in this volume localize the importance of English Studies and its constitutive autocritique, historically, politically, epistemologically, and ethically.

English Studies… began life as a conference held at Queen Mary in June 2013. Our call for papers began: ‘Faced with pressure to quantify and commodify our research and our teaching through the narrow and potentially homogenizing parameters of concepts such as “impact”, many researchers and teachers in English departments seem to retreat from the challenge of affirming what it is that we value in the study and teaching of English.’ These pressures, if anything, have been exacerbated since then, and so this book is intended not as an overview of the ‘state of the discipline’, but as an invitation to continue discussions in this vein – discussions which, we believe, are crucial to the discipline’s future(s).

“A serious – and often seriously funny – writer”: Researching Beryl Bainbridge

My book on the novelist Beryl Bainbridge, imaginatively entitled Beryl Bainbridge, was published at the end of 2014, but the origins of the project go right back to my undergraduate degree. I first read Bainbridge’s According to Queeney (2001) on a final-year contemporary literature module at Hull and confess I wasn’t sure what to make of it. There was something peculiar, ambiguous and intriguing that I found hard to pinpoint, something which undercut the sentimental cover image of a rosy-cheeked Hesther Thrale mère et fille. I filed it away in the mental folder marked ‘deserves further scrutiny’.

As I got towards the end of my MA at UEA and my thoughts turned to PhD research, I dusted off that folder and alongside a series of ludicrous and unmanageable projects, Bainbridge stood out. I also remembered Jane Thomas, who had introduced According to Queeney to the reading list at Hull, talking about how scandalously Bainbridge had been neglected by academics. These memories sent me hurrying to the UEA library to see what else she had written and whether I could face spending three or four years in her company.

Huw Marsh, 'Beryl Bainbrudge' (Northcote House, 2014)
Huw Marsh, ‘Beryl Bainbrudge’ (Northcote House, 2014)

I started to read Bainbridge’s back catalogue, first in a fairly piecemeal fashion and then more systematically. All sorts of connections began to emerge, not just between the earlier novels, which loosely follow the contours of Bainbridge’s adolescent years in and around Liverpool, but also between this period and the later historical novels like According to Queeney and Master Georgie (1998), which tended to be treated as a separate phase of her career. It seemed that whether she was writing about her own past or the world-historical past, Bainbridge was always asking questions about the nature of history, memory and representation. She was also engaging with pressing debates in contemporary fiction and criticism (particularly from critics concerned with the nature of the postmodern), and whilst her exclusion from these debates seemed wrongheaded it also provided me with a viable project.

In the absence of a raft of Bainbridge scholars, the application process was largely a matter of putting out feelers to see who was interested in supervising the project. Fortunately a number of potential supervisors expressed an interest, including Mary Condé at Queen Mary. I chose QMUL not just because I thought Mary would be a great supervisor, which she was, but also because of the Department’s reputation. And by reputation I don’t mean just the Top Trumps metrics of league tables and KPIs, but rather the comments and recommendations of tutors and other people who know the department and the atmosphere it fosters. It was also a shortish bike ride down the canal from where I lived, which helped.

I enrolled part-time for the first year and applied for and was awarded AHRC funding from the second year onwards (this was pre Block Grant, which ages me). The research itself was fun – genuinely – and although there must have been moments of crisis I seem to have blocked them from my memory. I was fortunate that early on I spotted a tiny, two-sentence report in the Guardian saying that the British Library had bought Beryl Bainbridge’s personal papers, and even more fortunate that they let me access the papers before they had been catalogued. It was exciting to know I was the first person to study these documents and I never quite knew what I was going to find. Sometimes I would trawl through final drafts or proofs that varied little from the published texts and at other times I would find an alternative ending, or an unpublished play, or an erotic doodle in the margins of a letter. It was hard to avoid getting side-tracked by tantalising detective work on fragments from diaries or letters, but dead ends and wild goose chases are all part of the process.

The archival work helped me develop a stronger understanding of how Bainbridge constructed her stories and of the underlying research she stripped away to create her elliptical novels. It also brought to the fore questions of fact and fiction and the ways in which Bainbridge narrativised the past in its many senses. Among the documents is a scrapbook prepared by Bainbridge, which gives a ‘key’ to the people on whom she based characters from her early novels, including photographs and short bios. For the biographer, this would have been invaluable, but for the literary critic schooled in postructuralism and suspicious of biographical readings it presented a series of questions: how much ‘weight’ should I give to Bainbridge’s claims that her early novels were fictionalised memoirs? Do they even work as such? If so, why were they published as novels? And are there any connections between these fictionalised autobiographies and her later fictionalised histories? It also spoke to a series of questions I had been asking about the ways in which Bainbridge’s personality and her anti-analytical attitude toward her work affected its critical reception. There was a tendency, I noticed, to dismiss Bainbridge’s novels as the ‘slight’ or ‘minor’ work of an eccentric, and to overlook the depth and complexity of the fiction itself.

All of these questions were complicated by the fact that Bainbridge was alive – and able to answer back – while I was researching and writing the thesis. I ummed and ahhed about whether to contact her, but when it was announced she would open the summer fete in the Suffolk village where my girlfriend (now wife) grew up, it was practically unavoidable. (N.B. Please be aware the above photo was taken some years ago and I have since rethought my hair choices. And yes, that is Terry Waite, who lives in Hartest and invited Bainbridge to open the fete.) We subsequently arranged an interview and spoke for a couple of hours, fuelled by strong cups of tea. As I expected she was welcoming but guarded and reluctant to analyse or attribute meaning to her work. The interview didn’t fundamentally change the direction of my research, though I’m glad I took the opportunity to meet her and it helped fill one or two gaps in the documents. In fact, it was worthwhile just to visit the Camden townhouse that formed the setting for several of her novels, complete with full-sized stuffed buffalo in the hallway and airgun pellet hole in the ceiling from when her mother-in-law tried to shoot her.

Such was the apparent eccentricity of Bainbridge’s life that it’s tempting to focus on the anecdotal when writing about her (see paragraph above), but when I reflect on it now I hope my research has helped to reveal what a serious – and often seriously funny – writer she was. Not only did my PhD inform my recent book but it also opened up avenues for current and future research projects on history and historicity, comedy, and contemporary canon formation. One of the things I love about research is that it opens up questions rather than closing them down.

As is sadly so often the case, an upsurge of interest in Bainbridge’s writing arrived only after her death, but there is a growing sense that she is now gaining the recognition she deserved. KCL recently staged an exhibition of her paintings, suggesting a whole new side to her artistic practice, and a biography is forthcoming from her friend and assistant Brendan King. More controversially, in 2011 the Man Booker committee awarded Bainbridge’s Master Georgie (1998) a posthumous ‘Best of Beryl’ award in recognition of her record five appearances on the Booker shortlist without a win. Too little too late, perhaps, and that seems to be the view of Mark Knopfler, singer and guitarist with giants of eighties rock Dire Straits, who I will forever associate with interminable childhood car journeys and my conviction that ‘Money for Nothing’ was about a man who got his ‘chips for free’. The lead single from Knopfler’s new solo album is entitled ‘Beryl’ and includes the lines ‘Beryl/Every time they overlooked her/When they gave her a Booker she was dead in her grave’. I may have spent years researching Bainbridge but I did not see that one coming…

Empty Words: Writing Medieval London

In this post I publish my PhD thesis, ‘Verba Vana: Empty Words in Ricardian London’, which was completed in 2012.

Two things prompted me to publish my project here. Firstly, three years after submitting it, I have finally reached the stage where I’ve forgotten enough of the thesis to no longer be embarrassed by it. Secondly, while I have moved sideways in the intervening three years (staying in HE, but moving into the administrative sphere), I remain interested in developments in the field. In particular, recent and on-going discussions about London scribal practices suggested to me that there may be broader interest in my discussion (and transcription/translation) of the 1388 Guild Petitions, including the Mercers’ Petition – sometimes thought to have been written by Adam Pinkhurst.

The links below lead to two pdfs of the thesis (the first contains the body of the thesis, the second the appendices and bibliography). These faithfully reproduce the thesis that was passed by my examiners: Professors Ardis Butterfield and Mark Ormrod. The thesis does show signs of intellectual naivety, and my weaknesses in palaeography and languages will be obvious. But it also contains some fresh analyses, both of canonical literary texts (Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Gower’s Confessio Amantis, Clanvowe’s Boke of Cupide) and little-studied civic documents (including extracts from Letter-Book H and the Westminster Chronicle, as well as various petitions). As such, I hope this thesis may prove useful to some.

Feel free to contact me (r.ellis@qmul.ac.uk) with any questions or comments you may have.

Thesis

Volume 1 – Thesis (*.pdf)

Volume 2 – Appendices (*.pdf)

Abstract

Verba Vana, or ‘empty words’, are named as among the defining features of London by a late fourteenth-century Anglo-Latin poem which itemises the properties of seven English cities. This thesis examines the implications of this description; it explores, in essence, what it meant to live, work, and especially write, in an urban space notorious for the vacuity of its words. The thesis demonstrates that anxieties concerning the notoriety of empty words can be detected in a wide variety of surviving urban writings produced in the 1380s and 1390s. These include anxieties not only about idle talk – such as janglynge, slander, and other sins of the tongue – but also about the deficiencies of official discourses which are partisan, fragmentary and susceptible to contradiction and revision. This thesis explores these anxieties over the course of four discrete chapters. Chapter one, focusing on Letter-Book H, Richard Maidstone’s Concordia and Geoffrey Chaucer’s Cook’s Tale, considers how writers engaged with the urban power struggles that were played out on Cheapside. Chapter two, examining the 1388 Guild Petitions, considers how the London guilds legitimised their textual endeavours and argues that the famous Mercers’ Petition is a translation of the hitherto-ignored Embroiderers’ Petition. Chapter three, looking at several works by Chaucer, John Gower, the Monk of Westminster and various urban officials, explores the discursive space that emerges following justified and unjustified executions. Chapter four, focusing on Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale and John Clanvowe’s Boke of Cupide, contends that the crises of speech and authority that these poems dramatise can be productively read within the context of the Merciless Parliament of 1388. Through close textual analysis, this thesis analyses specific responses to the prevalence of empty words in the city, while also reflecting more broadly on the remarkable cultural, linguistic, social, and political developments witnessed in this period.

Full Contents

Volume I

Preliminary Materials

Declaration
Abstract
List of Tables
List of Figures
List of Abbreviations
Acknowledgments
Notes on Quotations and Appendices

Introduction

A Prelude: The Variable Fortunes of Nicholas Exton
Introduction

1. ‘Chepp, stupha, Coklana’:  Ricardian Cheapside and Urban Power Struggles

Introduction
Conceptualising Late Fourteenth-Century Cheapside
‘[T]am tubis & fistulis ducatur per Chepe’ (4.3): Order and Transparency in Letter-Book H
‘[I]nsurreccionem congregaciones & conuenticule’ (5.2): Sir Nicholas Brembre’s Anti-Associational Rhetoric
‘Mediam dum rex venit usque plateam’ (275): Mediation in Richard Maidstone’s Concordia
‘For whan ther any ridyng was in Chepe/Out of the shoppe thider wolde he lepe’ (I.4377-78): Conflict Irresolution in Chaucer’s Cook’s Tale
Conclusion

2. ‘[D]olium, leo verbaque vana’: Strategies of Legitimation in the 1388 Guild Petitions

Introduction
The 1388 Guild Petitions: Context and Form
Group One: Modelling Petitions
Group Two: Expanding Models
Group Three: Experimentations with Language, Rhetoric, and Voice
Recontextualising the Mercers’ Petition: The Mercers as Translators
Analysing the Mercers’ Petition: The Mercers as Innovators
The Language of Petitioning: A Second Mercers’ Petition
Preliminary Conclusions
‘[O]ue graunt noyse’: Strategies of Legitimation
Conclusion: Verba Superflua

3. ‘Lancea cum scutis’: Language and Violence in Exemplary Narratives and Historical Records

Introduction
The Rest is Never Silence: Chaucer’s Manciple’s Tale and Questions of Doubt
‘Hold conseil and descoevere it noght’ (III.779): Gower’s ‘Tale of Phebus and Cornide’ and the Triumphing of Silence
Gower’s ‘Tale of Phebus and Cornide’ in Context
‘This thing is knowen overal’ (III.1893): Gower’s ‘Tale of Orestes’ and the Fame of Death
‘Diverse opinion ther is’ (III.2114): Clytemnestra’s Death and Orestes’s Shame
‘[T]ho befell a wonder thing’ (III.2172): Gower’s Women and the Problems of Tale-Telling
Gower’s ‘Tale of Orestes’ in Context: The Many Lives and Deaths of Clytemnestra
The Life, Death, and Afterlives of John Constantyn, Cordwainer
‘[U]t volunt quidam’: Constantyn, the Westminster Chronicle, and the Spread of Public Speech

4. ‘[P]ira pomaque regia thronus’: Judging Speech in Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale and Clanvowe’s Boke of Cupide

Introduction
‘[S]he brast on forto wepe’ (Boke of Cupide, 210): Competitive Speechifying
‘[A]l that euere he wol he may’ (Boke of Cupide, 16): The Failures of Regal Authority
‘[W]hat may been youre help?’ (V.459): Supplanting Monarchs    277
‘[W]ith that song I awoke’ (Boke of Cupide, 290): Revisiting the Aesthetics of Irresolution
‘I can for tene sey not oon worde more’ (209): The Boke of Cupide and the Politics of Irresolution
‘[Y]e get namoore of me’ (V.343): Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale and the Politics of Irresolution

Conclusion

 

Volume II

Notes to Appendices

Appendix 1 – The Stores of the Cities

1a) Text and Translation

Text
Translation

1b) Additional Comments on Stanza 1
1c) The Stores’ description of Lincoln: A Walking Tour?

Appendix 2: The Variable Fortunes of Nicholas Exton

2a) Nicholas Exton’s indecentibus verbis

Text
Translation
Manuscript Image

2b) Nicholas Exton’s Slander

Text
Translation
Manuscript Images

2c) Nicholas Exton’s Pardon

Text
Translation

Appendix 3 – John Godefray’s False ‘cappes’

Text
Translation

Appendix 4 – John de Stratton’s Forgeries

Text
Translation

Appendix 5 – Richard Norbury, John More, and John Northampton’s Insurrection

Text
Translation

Appendix 6 – Brembre’s Proclamations

6a) Proclamation 1

Text
Translation

6b) Proclamation 2

Text

6c) Proclamation 3

Text
Translation

6d) Proclamation 4

Text
Translation

6e) Proclamation 5

Text
Translation

6f) Proclamation 6

Text
Translation

Appendix 7 – The 1388 Guild Petitions

7a) The Pinners’ Petition

Text
Translation

7b) The Founders’ Petition

Text
Translation

7c) The Drapers’ Petition

Text
Translation

7d) The Painters’ Petition

Text
Translation

7e) The Armourers’ Petition

Text
Translation

7f) The <…>steres’ Petition

Text
Translation

7g) The Goldsmiths’ Petition

Text
Translation

7h) The Saddlers’ Petition

Text
Translation

7i) The Cordwainers’ Petition

Text
Translation

7j) The Embroiderers’ Petition

Text
Translation

7k) The Mercers’ Petition

Text

7l) The Cutlers, Bowyers, Fletchers, Spurriers, and Bladesmiths’ Petition

Text
Translation

7m) The Leathersellers and Whittawyers’ Petition

Text
Translation

7n) The Tailors’ Petition

Text
Translation

7o) The Anglo-Norman Mercers’ Petition (Partial Transcription)

Text

Appendix 8 – The Mercers’ Petition and the Embroiderers’ Petition Side-by-Side

Appendix 9 – Anti-Victualler Statute

Text
Translation
Manuscript Images

Appendix 10 – Table of Correspondences among the 1388 Guild Petitions

Table 4 – The Correspondences amongst the 1388 Guild Petition
Notes to Table 4
Key to Petitions
Key to Accusations

Appendix 11 – A document associated with the Leathersellers and Whittawyers’ Petition    508

Text
Translation

Appendix 12 – Official Responses to John Constantyn’s Execution

12a) Brembre’s Petition

Text
Translation

12b) Royal Warrant

Text
Translation

12c) Royal Ratification in Letter-Book H

Text
Translation

Appendix 13 – William Mayhew’s Protest

Text
Translation

Appendix 14 – Further Images from Letter-Book H

Bibliography

Manuscript Sources
Reference Works
Primary Sources
Secondary Sources

‘Asymptote’: Introducing a Literary Magazine

I’d like to introduce you all to Asymptote, an online journal of international literature and translation that I help to edit. The name (I had to google ‘asymptote’ at first) is a term from analytical geometry: a line towards which a mathematical function tends towards infinitely but never meets. It’s intended to describe the way a translation creatively mimics the effect of a text in another language, without ever replicating it entirely.

The journal’s main aim is to counter the lack of diversity in literature by translating the best new writing from all over the world into English (and sometimes other languages too). In not quite four years the journal has featured new writing and art in 65 languages from 93 countries, including previously unpublished work from David Mitchell, Haruki Murakami, J.M. Coetzee, José Saramago, and many others. You can always read the work in its original language too, and hear a clip of the author reading from it in their mother tongue. All this is beautifully illustrated by a different guest artist each month.

Asymptote calls itself a journal, but, to my mind, it might be better described as a literary magazine. Each quarter we feature new poetry, drama, fiction and non-fiction in translation, as well as interviews and reviews. In addition, there are always two special features. The first of these is the Writers on Writers feature, in which an underappreciated or emerging writer is introduced succinctly by a better known one. The second varies from issue to issue – recent examples include features on self-translated drama, English “Diaspora” writing, and Taiwanese fiction.

Even my own section – criticism – is different from an academic journal. The section mostly comprises reviews of recent translations, and essays on the subject of world literature or translation, but we ask our contributors to write for a broad audience, avoiding the use of scholarly apparatus. Having said that, we have featured the work of many academics, including, recently, David Kaufmann (George Mason University), and Jacob Emery (Indiana University). Every now and again we include a more scholarly piece of literary criticism, such as an essay by the Argentine cultural critic Gonzalo Aguilar (forthcoming in January).

The team now comprises upwards of 70 multilingual people living all over the world, many of who have never met another Asymptote member. We communicate using email and Skype, and organise all our projects using an online platform called Trello. The global reach of all these people is impressive – if I ever need to get in touch with a writer or an academic, chances are somebody on the team has their email address.

In just four years, we’ve not done too badly. Calling Asymptote “an amazing cultural force in the literary community”, PEN America proposed that we join forces in 2015 to commission pieces that would otherwise not make their way onto a publisher’s desk. We have been nominated Magazine of the Year alongside the London Review of Books, our April issue last year was plugged in The New Yorker, and our July issue was picked up by BBC Culture.

This January, along with a couple of other London-based team members, I’m hosting an event to celebrate the journal’s anniversary. On Monday 19th January, Adam Thirlwell (twice one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists), acclaimed translators Daniel Hahn (from Portuguese, Spanish and French) and Deborah Smith (from Korean), and Stefan Tobler (Publisher of And Other Stories), will come together at the Free Word Centre in Farringdon to discuss their favourite translated books, and the current state of global literary translation. All are very welcome, but get your tickets before it sells out!

Asymptote is an international not-for-profit organisation, and we rely entirely on donations to keep us afloat. We’ve just launched a new fundraising campaign to raise money to hold a translation contest, and to organise more events like the one in January. If you’re feeling generous around this time of year, or simply found something you liked in the journal, please consider supporting us.

Finally, we have vacancies! If you’re interested in joining us, you can see the available roles here, or if you’d like to contribute, our submission guidelines are here.

And Laugh We Did: ‘The Knight of the Burning Pestle’

As one of the Department’s resident medievalists, most of my teaching concerns heroes and monsters, knights and ladies, and magic and the supernatural. However, this year, I’ve had the unexpected pleasure of co-teaching (with Ruth Ahnert, Una McIlvenna, Anthony Ossa-Richardson, and Harriet Phillips) a new module on Renaissance drama.  Aimed at second year students, ESH280 Renaissance Drama explores four key themes in the plays of early modern England: London; metatheatricality; strangers and others; and law and justice. My research is in late medieval and early renaissance drama, so it’s been a real treat to learn more about the drama of a slightly later period, and even tease out parallels and points of contact with the material I work with more closely.

Of all the plays we have read this semester, one stands out as both uniquely modern, but also curiously indebted to medieval literature and culture:  The Knight of the Burning Pestle by Francis Beaumont. First performed by a cast of schoolboys in 1607, it has recently been revived and is currently playing at the Sam Wannamaker Playhouse at The Globe. So, on a dark and rainy December evening, the ESH280 team left Queen Mary and travelled to the Southbank, ready to be transported to early-seventeenth-century London, where the play is set.

With its candlelit stage and galleried (for which read, uncomfortable) seating, its historically accurate costumes and carefully researched staging, ‘authentic’ is certainly one word that readily sticks to any account of Adele Thomas’s production. However, far more than a history lesson, this is a production that reminds us how formally daring, how generically subversive this play really is.

The premise is relatively straightforward: a grocer and his wife turn up at the theatre to watch a production of a play called The London Merchant, but unhappy with the way that play seems to be proceeding, they interrupt the action and demand their apprentice, Rafe, be given a role as the knight of the play’s title. Watching Phil Daniels and Pauline McLynn as the grocer and his wife air their views while chewing noisily on popcorn and passing drinks to other members of the audience, I was struck by how modern – how post-modern, even – this play can feel. Centuries before Punchdrunk, before You Me Bum Bum Train, here’s a play exploring how we as audience members experience theatre and, in turn, how our experience as audience members can affect or even change the fabric of the play we are watching.

But strangely, this, the most curiously current of all the play’s many conceits, is also one of its most medieval. Long before the proscenium arch, before the fourth wall had been put up, separating actors from their audiences, medieval drama thrived on a dynamic that frequently placed spectators at the heart of the action. To take just one example, in the late medieval morality play Mankind, not only are audience members required to pay to make the chief devil appear – thus neatly paying the actors’ wages – but they are also duped into singing a dirty little ditty, a ‘Christmas song’ that has little to do with the birth of Christ, and rather more to do with lavatorial misadventure.

Mankind was probably performed at inns and other venues in and around East Anglia in the second half of the fifteenth century; quite some way then from the candlelit stage at Blackfriars where The Knight of the Burning Pestle was first staged. However, both plays share a kind of crazed exuberance, a recognition that active involvement is often the best way of making, playing with, and sometimes even disrupting meaning. They also thrive on comedy – by which I mean less the classical genre than the ability to make you bellyache with laughter. And laugh we did. Raucously, rambunctiously, and probably uncouthly. It’s a reaction that is somehow so central, but can often fail to come off in a classroom. And if that isn’t an advertisement for the current performance, I don’t know what is.

The Knight of the Burning Pestle is at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse until 11 January 2015.

REF2014: Response and Implications

The School of English and Drama is delighted by our success in the REF, which recognizes us as one of the leading research institutions in the country. The Department of Drama is ranked 1st in the UK for the quality of its research, while the Department of English is ranked 5th (and 1st in London).

The results testify to international quality of the dynamic interdisciplinary research done by our research staff. The REF measures quality in research outputs, in our research environment, and in the impact our research has on the wider world. In each measure we have performed exceptionally well. This is a testament to the hard work and collegiality with which colleagues across the School have approached the REF.

The REF results are vital in determining future research funding, and this result will ensure the School continues to prosper in the coming years. The research that REF measures also has an important influence on our teaching. The School has long adopted a philosophy of research-led teaching; this means that the modules we run at undergraduate and postgraduate level are taught by international experts in the field, and students are thus exposed to the latest and most exciting ideas. The impact result also reveals that academics in the School are committed to speaking to audiences beyond the university.

In the following two videos, I reflect on the importance of the REF, and some of the implications it was for us and for other institutions.

 

Race, Racism and ‘Theatre of the Ghetto’

Katie Beswick, Lecturer in Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies, on her research into race, racism and Theatre of the Ghetto.

One of my research interests is in the genre of drama that journalist Lindsay Johns has pejoratively termed ‘Theatre of the Ghetto‘. This genre, according to Johns, is primarily ‘about guns, drugs and council estates’ and regularly depicts black people (particularly men) as inhabitants of unsavoury or troubled home environments and as the perpetrators or victims of crime.

‘Theatre of the Ghetto’, I would add, usually adheres to the conventions of social realism – where working class spaces are depicted with a close attention to detail in the set design, costume and staging. Plays that might fit into this category include Off the Endz (Bola Agbaje 2010 Royal Court), The Westbridge (Rachel De-lahay 2011 Royal Court) and Estate Walls (Arinze Kene 2011 Ovalhouse).

It is easy to see why Johns is dissatisfied with the state of contemporary black British theatre, which again and again presents stereotypes of young black men, which reinforce racist conceptions of black masculinity that already circulate in the dominant culture. In many of the post-show talks and Q&As that I have attended after theatre (and indeed film) of the ‘ghetto’ events the question asked by audience members is: ‘what can we do about our young black men?’ Audiences (both black and white) appear to receive these works as truthful reflections of the total state of the young black British community, and respond by seeking methods to ‘fix’ the youth.

I think audiences are asking the wrong question – what we should be asking, especially in this period where the rise of the far right throughout Europe threatens to create and entrench divisions between racial and religious groups, is: ‘what can we do about racism?’ What can we do about racism, which operates to demonise groups of the population and which is so pervasive that it works through cultural intuitions such as theatre to reinforce its dangerous message?

Accusing mainstream theatres of racism is ethically complex, not least because most of the plays that fit the ‘Theatre of the Ghetto’ mould are written by black writers, often claiming to reflect the ‘reality’ of the life of the black British community. And, after all, what right does a white woman such as me have to tell these writers what kind of theatre they should and shouldn’t be making? (Another good question.)

But of course – as is hardly ever publically acknowledged, particularly at the Royal Court, which emphasises the primacy of the playwright – plays have more than one author. The producers, directors, set designers and centrally, the funders of theatre also contribute to the overall meaning created by productions, and importantly, decide what gets made, and how.

What can we do about a system where, as playwright Arinze Kene has argued, black British playwrights are coerced into writing ‘the same old shit’, in the knowledge that these are the stories theatres want to stage?

Happily, there does seem to be a fledgling move towards mainstream theatres asking questions about the stories they produce. Over the past couple of years I have come across two especially powerful productions that place racism at the centre of the story, questioning ‘norms’ of the theatre industry in different ways.

The first is Nathaniel Martello-White’s play Blackta (Young Vic 2012), which explores the place of the black actor in the contemporary theatre industry. Blackta calls attention to the pressures young black men feel to live up to stereotypes of extreme masculinity – ‘homophobic, misogynistic, tough’ – and examines how the acting industry exploits and reinforces conventional depictions of black men.

The second is Arinze Kene’s God’s Property (Soho 2013), which subverts conventional ‘Theatre of the Ghetto’ narratives, which often position black men as recidivist criminals. At the end of the play, the mixed-race Chima who has served a long prison sentence for the murder of his white girlfriend, Poppy, is revealed not to have killed her at all – he has covered for Poppy’s father, who killed her accidently, trying to attack Chima after becoming enraged that his daughter was carrying a black man’s baby.

Both of these examples mark an important, I think, way in which the theatre industry is starting to interrogate its own practices. Although, depressingly, after a showing of God’s Property at the Albany in Deptford, audiences were still asking, ‘what should we do about our young black men?’ A question which conveniently shifts the gaze away from those in power, who might be able to actually do something about the social problems caused by racial and economic inequality.

 

With thanks to Charlotte Bell at Queen Mary University, whose question on my paper at the Seeing Like a City symposium prompted this blog.

If you’re interested in reading more of my thoughts on realism and the ethics of representation you might like to read articles I have written (and co-written) on the subject: here and here.

Welcome to the QMULsed Blogs

Welcome to All Things SED, the new blogging platform for the School of English and Drama (SED) at Queen Mary University of London.

The School brings together two of Queen Mary’s outstanding departments: the Department of English and the Department of Drama. The School has an international reputation for its high-quality research and its excellence in teaching. The latest REF (Research Excellence Framework, 2014), ranked Drama as first in the country and English as fifth in the country (and first in London) for the quality of their research. The latest National Student Survey revealed high levels of student satisfaction: 100% of Drama students and 94% of English students were satisfied with their programmes.

All Things SED is a platform for our students and academics to blog on cultural developments and reflect on their work and practice. The site will host regular bloggers and one-off writers. We will also host SEDcasts: video and audio interviews with members of the School.

If you are interested in contributing on a regular or one-off basis, please get in touch with the All Things SED Webmaster.