International Hoccleve Society at Kalamazoo 2017: Hoccleve at Play
Since Thomas Hoccleve chose to set his “Compleinte,” the opening salvo of his five-poem Series, in the “broun sesoun of Mihelmesse” (an intentional inversion of Chaucer’s springtime “Aprill shoures”), critics of his poetry have been immersed in the depressive and disconsolate overtones of much of his verse. Hoccleve makes this easy—he dwells on his misspent youth and the infirmities of old age, bodily and financial. Malcolm Richardson’s decades-old evaluation of Hoccleve as an “unfortunate poet,” a “slacker” and “failed bureaucrat” remains alive in much current scholarship which scours Hoccleve’s self-admitted defeats and disappointments for evidence of his commentary on fifteenth-century English politics and identity-politics.
While such avenues are certainly fertile, this panel seeks papers that probe Hoccleve’s jocular and imaginative side. What positive emotions are present in Hoccleve’s work, indicative of the humor he may have witnessed in everyday life? What metrical and rhetorical play and humorous subject matter does he engage with in his poetry and prose? We recognize that affect theory is opening new ground for finding meaning in Hoccleve’s expressed madness and rehabilitation, his emotional and psychological state, and the relationships between mental health and late medieval social experience. Yet as Hoccleve’s existential crisis looms so large in scholarship it becomes hard to imagine the man simply existing at all. We seek another human side of this poet: the playful, the happy, the celebratory.
Jerome Mitchell once noted that “La male regle," for example, develops a “humourous tone” inherent to the poet's lived experiences ("The Autobiographical Element in Hoccleve,” Modern Language Quarterly 28 , 277). Affect theory advances this current of Hoccleve study that foregrounds the autobiographical subject—what Bobby Meyer-Lee calls the poet’s “textualization of his identity as a privy seal clerk” (Poets and Power from Chaucer to Wyatt [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007], 88). Studies of Hoccleve’s revelatory mode often resuscitate his poetic reputation by stressing his idiosyncratic manipulation of convention towards material, financial ends, as for example Ethan Knapp’s theories on Hoccleve’s participation in—and literary construction of—bureaucratic culture. Not only might Barbara Rosenwein’s concept of “emotional communities” shed light on Hoccleve’s self- and group-constructive rhetorical play, but it might produce a reading of his techniques alternative to the moods of begging or complaint that seem to prevail due to the the scribal nature of his poetic productions. Can we find instead an ironic rather than a workmanlike Hoccleve, performing rather than expressing emotion?
Some potential questions participants may wish to address include: Can Hoccleve’s claims to autobiography be inherently a pretense to gamesmanship? His posing among shifting personas be fundamentally playful? Are his failures and faults intended as laughable farce, the awkward encounters in “Male regle" with untrustworthy tavern-keepers, prostitutes and boatmen to be viewed as pranks? Could Hoccleve intend his self-scrutiny in front of the mirror in “My Compleinte” as over-the-top caricature or slapstick comedy? Is the interaction between Thomas and the Regiment prologue’s Old Man a farcical inversion of Boethian consolation, given the Old Man’s unsympathetic advice and insistent dominance of the conversation? When he complains in the Regiment prologue that most people do not understand the difficulty of scribal work but “holde it but a game,” is Hoccleve himself playing a game—a game of contrasting the alienating or solipsizing act of scribal labor to its social cure, poetry? Is the bureaucratic emotional community one joined by playful poetizing as much as it is by poetic petition, resistant to the commodifying pressures of bureaucratic documentation and patronized poetry? Is poetry an escape for the Late Medieval renaissance man, a place for aesthetic play rather than a tool for doing work in the world? How might we model a hermeneutics of humor in Hoccleve’s collected works?
We look forward to your interpretations of how Hoccleve shares a laugh with his cohort. Please send one-page abstracts for a 20-minute paper presentation along with a Participant Information Form (https://wmich.edu/medievalcongress/submissions) to Danielle Bradley (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 15 September 2016. Inquiries also welcome.