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A Rose both White and Red: Middle English and Tudor Memory

David Matthews

Pages 29 - 46



This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0.

An approach to periodisation emphasising continuity between medieval and early modern has asserted itself in recent years, over the preceding model which viewed the two periods as separated by a profound historical rupture. Here I argue that while this newer model has done important work for literary studies, its usefulness is at an end. I propose instead a messier model (via Jonathan Gil Harris and ultimately Michel Serres) of temporal hybridity and polychronicity. Emblematic of this approach is the Tudor rose imagery found in Hall’s chronicle and later more explicitly in literary contexts. I explore polychronicity through an examination of the testimony of the early fifteenth-century Lollard William Thorpe, whose avowedly self-authored testimony circulated in manuscript (in Middle English) after his heresy interrogation by Archbishop Arundel. The testimony was printed in Antwerp in 1530 by an unknown sympathiser with religious reform and enthusiastically taken up by John Foxe in the first edition of his Acts and Monuments (1563). Foxe’s discussion of it, and particularly its linguistic character, shows how in his hands it becomes a polychronic document. For Foxe, Thorpe is modern (as a precursor of the reformed English church) but preposterously so (as an early fifteenth-century figure). The archaic, medieval character of Thorpe’s language (usually for Foxe a marker of a superstitious past) must here be retained (as the guarantor of Thorpe’s precocious modernity). The contradictory project of Acts and Monuments is to bracket off a past to which there must be no return, while at the same time not only invoking that past, but also pointing to the ways in which it clearly anticipates the present.

Keywords: Lollardy; Middle English; polychronicity; Reformation; William Thorpe


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