Middle English as a Foreign Language to “Us” and “Them”: Gower, to “Us” and “Them”: Gower, Langland, and the Author of The Life of St. Margaret
This essay is about an aspect of ME language that is important for understanding as well as teaching that language’s literary complexities: ME writers’ sense of the foreignness of the English they use. The discussion of PPl occurs in the context of the observation that ME writers are notoriously often conscious of their own language as existing precariously at a very particular time and place, and unusually prone to innovation and obsolescence. In PPl, English words — kynde, meed, kynde knowynge — are often objects of keen historical, social, and intellectual scrutiny. L defines the history of English words as an exotic antiquarian pursuit, even when it leads directly into the most explosive religious words to be found in his period. In C.9 the poet may not be reciting ancestral wisdom about the meaning of the word lollare but launching a novel simile of his own, part of his imaginative and original re-creation of a word that was rapidly subjected to a series of definitions as the illicit and scandalous ideological and social elements that it defined swiftly assumed new forms.