Volume 2 (2015)

Transitions, Fractures, and Fragments

Michael Ovens – Editor’s Foreword

In a departure from the previous issue’s foreword, I am delighted not to open but to close Volume 2 of Ceræ: An Australasian Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies. This issue has seen a number of developments and changes in how the journal is run, not least of which is the introduction of a rolling release schedule that allows us to reduce the turnaround time between article submission and publication – an arrangement which is good for both editors and authors! We have also seen a changing of the guard here at the journal as members finish their allotted terms on the Executive in order to make way for a new generation. One thing which has not changed is the quality of the articles we have both received and published. This volume publishes seven articles from fifteen submissions which run the gamut from early Byzantine martial culture through to seventeenth-century witch trials, with two articles on the theme Transitions, Fractures, and Fragments. We have also published our first multi-media article on the interpretation of harp performance in medieval romance. The future is bright for Ceræ! On behalf of the Editorial Committee I would like to extend my deepest thanks to the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Western Australia for their ongoing support of the journal, and also to the Postgraduate Students Association and our anonymous PayPal donors. As an online journal we are able to keep our running costs low, but the ability to offer prize money which our sponsors have enabled has allowed us to both attract and support quality scholarship from both new scholars in the field. I would also like to extend our thanks to the anonymous peer reviewers and all who volunteered their time to the running of the journal; Ceræ would not exist without your dedication and support.

Michael Ovens, University of Western Australia

Themed Articles

Emily Cock – ‘Nonsence is Rebellion’: John Taylor’s Nonsence upon Sence, or Sence, upon Nonsence (1651–1654) and the English Civil War

Abstract: This article examines the political content of John Taylor’s Nonsence upon Sence, or Sence, upon Nonsence: Chuse you either, or neither (1651–1654), challenging the customary dismissal of this poem as light-hearted nonsense verse. Taylor was a staunch Royalist who had openly criticised the divisions of the English Civil War and the proliferation of religious separatists. I argue that Nonsence continues this project under a mask of playful ambiguity. The literary disorder created in this text, which Taylor calls ‘nonsence’, is made to mirror the social, religious and political fragmentation of post-war London, as sentences and words are broken down and rearranged in unfamiliar and disturbing ways. The article serves not only as a stylistic assessment of Taylor’s political satire, but also to historicise his engagement with nonsense and place within that literary tradition.

Emily Cock, University of Adelaide

Marina Gerzic – When Dylan Met the Bard: Fragments of Screen (Sound) in Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet

Abstract: Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet (2000) offers a stunning contemporary vision of Shakespeare’s Hamlet set in a sleek urban world of New York City that is plagued by claustrophobia, conspiracy, and global corporate power. The film radically shifts the original period and milieu of Hamlet,and drastically edits and fragments Shakespeare’s playtext. To counter the film’s temporal brevity and drastic cuts, Almereyda employs numerous intertextual and popular culture references, as well as eclectic musical cues, in order to quickly and succinctly convey mood, tone, and significant textual information that have otherwise been excised from his film. Musical quotation is in particular, a potent signifier in Hamlet. A fragment of the Bob Dylan song ‘All Along the Watchtower’ (1966) is used as a filmic shortcut to translate Shakespeare’s iconic ‘Gravedigger scene’ between Hamlet and the Gravedigger from playtext to screen. ‘All Along the Watchtower’ encapsulates certain ideas about mortality and the worth of life from the ‘Gravedigger scene’ and demonstrates these issues still resonate in the contemporary urban world the film is set. Dylan’s lyrics are a deliberate modern translation of Shakespeare’s poetry that casts Hamlet as the used and abused Joker struggling for meaning in his life, and Claudius as both Businessman and Thief, who robs Hamlet of the possibilities of succession.

Marina Gerzic, University of Western Australia

Non-Themed Articles

Richard Firth-Godbehere – For ‘Physitians of the Soule’: The roles of ‘flight’ and ‘hatred of abomination’ in Thomas Wright’s The Passions of the Minde in Generall

Abstract: This article attempts to understand how Thomas Wright’s 1604 work, The Passions of the Minde in Generall, might have fitted into his overall mission as an English Catholic preacher, particularly when read via Wright’s understanding of Thomas Aquinas’s passion of fuga seu abominatio. Some historians claim that Wright was a controversialist, previously describing The Passions as either a radical departure from Wright’s mission, or the work of a different Thomas Wright. Earlier attempts to find a missionary element within The Passions have been inadequate. Through a close reading of The Passions, specifically analysing Wright’s interpretation of fuga seu abominatio within the context of Wright’s intended readership, the main message of The Passions, and his background, this article suggests a possible reading of the text as a work aimed specifically at fellow English Catholics. To Wright, the passions of hatred of abomination and flight or detestation, derived primarily from Aquinas’s fuga seu abominatio, were not simply a form of disgust, as often assumed, but the potential worldly or otherworldly harm that someone we love, such as a neighbour, might face from the abominable evil of sin and damnation. By linking hatred of abomination, flight or detestation, and Wright’s particular view of sin together, Wright was teaching English Catholics how these passions might be used to cure diseased souls, turning the work into a guide for preaching.

Richard Firth-Godbehere, Queen Mary University of London

Volume 2 Essay Prize Winner

Michael Edward Stewart – The Andreios Eunuch-Commander Narses: Sign of a Decoupling of Martial Virtues and Masculinity in the Early Byzantine Empire?

Abstract: This paper looks at the place of the sixth-century Byzantine general Narses (c.480–573) in the history of Byzantine gender. Certainly, it has always been important for ancient and modern historians to emphasise Narses’ eunuchism. Indeed, for many modern scholars, Narses’ identity as a castrate has been more important for study than his military deeds and political achievements that proved ephemeral. For some, the presence of a eunuch in such an essential military role indicates a turning away from codes of generalship based on traditional martial courage and manliness. This paper questions such a view, suggesting that Byzantium had a much more flexible notion of eunuchs’ gender status than some recent scholarship allows. Indeed, it suggests that Narses fits into a continuing hegemony of traditional masculine values based on the supremacy of Byzantine men’s martial virtues.

Michael Edward Stewart, University of Queensland

Kathrin Bartha – Grotesque Encounters: Reading Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice along the Principles of the Sublime, Beautiful and Grotesque

Abstract: This article is an attempt to apply the basic principles of the aesthetic discourse on the sublime, beautiful and grotesque to William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Even though it is a discourse that only begins in the course of the eighteenth century, I will argue that the structure of the play parallels the model of the traditional sublime, as it deals with a subject-object binary and meditates on the relationship between the material (body) and the transcendental (mind). However, the play is also rich in disruptive – or grotesque – forces that unsettle this binary structure. The parallels between the play and the aesthetic discourse could not only help our understanding of postmodern criticism and rewriting of the sublime, but the sublime can also, in turn, shed light on the reception of the play.

Kathrin Bartha, Freie University Berlin

Sheilagh Ilona O’Brien – A ‘Divellish’ Woman Discovered: The Witch of Newbury, 1643

Abstract: During September 1643 a number of publications related the news that a witch had been found and killed by Roundhead soldiers just prior to the Battle of Newbury. This article will analyse the contents of the longest work on the Witch of Newbury, A Most Certain, Strange, and True Discovery of a VVitch, focusing in particular on aspects of the account which illustrate developments in early modern English witch beliefs. In ascertaining her identity, the soldiers relied upon popular beliefs about witches and their powers, and these beliefs informed their reactions to the witch. The discussion of the Witch of Newbury’s powers, and the soldiers perceptions of them, illustrates how ideas about witchcraft could and did change throughout the seventeenth-century, and in particular, during the English Civil Wars.

Sheilagh O’Brien, University of Queensland

Alana Bennett – ‘For musike meueþ affecciouns’: Interpreting Harp Performance in Medieval Romance

Abstract: Performances are focal points in medieval romances with musical protagonists. Whilst these performances may not necessarily be accurate representations of medieval music, such episodes in popular literature are valuable to early music practitioners because they describe the whole context of the performance. These scenes preserve a snapshot of the medieval experience of music: the physicality of the performance, the sounds created and the emotional responses to the music. The hyperbolic tendencies of popular literature are effective at communicating imagined performance contexts because of the use of language that deliberately presents and evokes extremes of emotion, involving the reader or listener in a simulacrum of musical affect. When used alongside surviving musical notation, musical treatises, accounts of performances in historical records, and iconography,these romances are, I argue, a highly valuable and informative source for medieval performance. They reveal to the modern reader how music was perceived and represented in the medieval popular imagination. This paper will examine harp performances in several music-focused romances and I will set alongside these examples my own amateur reconstructions of the performances as described.

Alana Bennett, University of York


Video 1 – Comparison of modern and historically informed styles
Video 2 – Tuning and scordatura
Video 3 – Demonstration of antiphonal playing
Video 4 – Close-up of hands


Brepola Periodica and Miscellanea Online (Ruth M. Oldman)

Brepols Publishers, Brepols Periodica and Miscellanea Online (2011), Online Download Review

Peter Cochran, Small-Screen Shakespeare (Marina Gerzic)

Cochran, Peter, Small-Screen Shakespeare (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013); hardcover; xii, 531 pages; 22 cm; R.R.P. US$59.99, £101.99; ISBN (10): 1-4438-4654-6, ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-4654-7

Reviewed by: Marina Gerzic, University of Western Australia

Mary Dockray-Miller, The Books and the Life of Judith of Flanders (Stephanie Hathaway)

Dockray-Miller, Mary, The Books and the Life of Judith of Flanders, (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015). Hardback. pp. 176. 36 colour and 5 b&w illustrations. R.R.P. £54.00. ISBN 978-1-4094-6835-6.

Reviewed by: Stephanie Hathaway, University of Oxford

Amanda Hopkins, Robert Allen Rouse and Cory James Rushton, eds., Sexual Culture in the Literature of Medieval Britain (Vanessa Wright)

Amanda Hopkins, Robert Allen Rouse and Cory James Rushton, eds., Sexual Culture in the Literature of Medieval Britain, (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2014). Print,186pp.,£55.00,ISBN: 9781843833795

Reviewed by: Vanessa Wright, University of Leeds

Simon Horobin and Linne R. Mooney, eds., Middle English Texts in Transition: A Festschrift dedicated to Toshiyuki Takamiya on his 70th birthday (Alana Bennett)

Horobin, Simon and Linne R. Mooney (eds). Middle English Texts in Transition: A Festschrift dedicated to Toshiyuki Takamiya on his 70th birthday. York: York University Press, 2014. Hardback; 359 pages; 20 colour, 20 black and white illustrations; RRP GBP£60.00; ISBN 9781903153536

Reviewed by: Alana Bennett, University of York

Kim M. Phillips, Before Orientalism: Asian Peoples and Cultures in European Travel Writing, 1245-1510 (Kelly Midgley)

Kim M. Phillips, Before Orientalism: Asian Peoples and Cultures in European Travel Writing, 1245-1510 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014). Print. 328 pp. 6 black and white illustrations. $79.95. ISBN 978-0-8122-4548-6

Reviewed by: Kelly Midgley, University of Western Australia

Featured Image: Scenes from the Story of Abraham, front panel, silk embroidery on linen,  mid-17th c, The Met Museum, Accession Number: 64.101.1306.