Title Background

Langland’s Tears: Poetry Emotion and Mouvance, Emotion and Mouvance

Langland’s Tears: Poetry Emotion and Mouvance, Emotion and Mouvance

The study of emotion in medieval English literature can never be a precise science, and PPl is no exception. Human emotions are rarely L’s first priority, nor the prime drivers of the poem’s action. Nor is the term ’emotion’ a medieval term, though it now names a recognisable field of historical inquiry that includes the study of medieval literature. Some commentators attempt to keep this history separate from modern affective responses to the past, but this is a difficult distinction to maintain consistently. This essay analyses several instances of tears and weeping in PPl and other medieval texts (by Chaucer, and Richard Rolle, and the anonymous St Erkenwald), in order to explore the history of feeling (to use Sarah McNamer’s preferred term), and especially the representation of male tears in medieval literature. In comparison to women’s tears, men’s tears are far more variable in their semiotic coding and cultural meaning, but tears in medieval culture can be read in a wide variety of ways, from humoral excess, the overflow of emotion, part of the performance of gender, an inspiration to devotion, to a gift from God. In the case of PPl, the representation of emotion is constrained and structured by the demands of alliterative verse, but also by the very mouvance of the text across the complex manuscript variations and the very process of revision. In PPl, Will’s own tears often signal the transition from a waking to a dreaming or visionary state, or a new impetus in the poem’s oneiric progression. L’s removal of the image of the child weeping in church in the C version is very problematic for our attempts to understand the poet’s representation of feeling, emotion and sentiment, but the rich commentary tradition on this passage, especially in twentieth- and twenty-first century textual and editorial commentary, shows how the reception history of medieval literature and even romantic attitudes to children and childhood can make an important contribution to the history of emotion. This essay argues that the history of responses to weeping in PPl is an important aspect of the long history of affective responses to the past. (ST)


YLS, 26 (2012), 27-48.


Trigg, Stephanie