Bringing Frames into Focus: Reading Middle English Literature
McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Danielle St. Hilaire
Sarah Breckenridge Wright
Bevis of Hampton, Confessio Amantis, framing devices, Margery Kempe, Middle English literature, reader-response
Middle English readers were critical readers who expected rhetorically-sophisticated texts. Middle English authors, who were themselves trained as readers first, acknowledge such a readership by using a variety of framing devices within their texts. The reading techniques that students applied to classical texts in the classroom were beginning to be applied to the then-modern texts of Middle English authors. Authors use these generically-situated framing devices to play with readersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ expectations and to open up their texts for a number of possible interpretations. I elucidate the possible rhetorical moves authors make using framing devices in their texts in response to this way of reading in order to demonstrate an understanding of reading-as-interpretation with which the Middle English authors discussed here were intimately familiar. This study accomplishes this end by analyzing three types of framing devices within their respective texts: the circular frame in John GowerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s compilation, Confessio Amantis; the episodic, memory-based frame of contemplative writing in Margery KempeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Book; and the narratorial frame accomplished through narratorial tags in The Romaunce of Sir Beves of Hamtoun. All of these frames control the presentation of the text while implicitly recognizing that such ornamentation cannot, ultimately, control interpretation. These three examples of framing devices in particular demonstrate the variety of such devices and the vastness of readersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ expectations to which they may respond. Ultimately, this study proposes the need to embrace medieval reading practices in order to begin to understand the complicated (and continuing) influence of these rhetorical practices on reading, writing, and interpretation. I contend that meaning is neither author- nor reader-dependent, but rather meaning results from a textual dialogue between author and reader, which may be identified through the framing devices studied here.
Stoyanoff, J. (2015). Bringing Frames into Focus: Reading Middle English Literature (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/1499