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Touching Hoccleve | International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo 2016

The goal of this year’s panel, titled “Touching Hoccleve,” was twofold: to explore how his poetry (or official bureaucratic productions) might allow modern readers to reach back and grasp Thomas Hoccleve’s social and psychological moment, coming to a sympathetic accord with his worldview and means of reacting to inter-personal stimuli; and to appraise how the physical body might manifest these internalized social stimuli while poetry externalizes psychological processes.  What touched Hoccleve, and how can we touch him?  What is, and is not, recoverable?

Justin Barker’s paper, “Unstable Matter and Poetic Authority in the Series,” took on this question of knowability by turning to Aristotelian hermeneutics. She analyzed Hoccleve’s engagement with “matter,” in the sense of subjects or topics and the substance of an author’s composition. Many have noted that his poems’ form breeds instability, but Justin argues that such instability is a source of possibility in Hoccleve’s works, that his authorial identity hinges on his matter’s indeterminacy.  As he peers deeply at his surroundings, Hoccleve’s attempts to scrutinize, understand, and represent his world are aided by the multitude of interpretations allowed by verbal malleability. Justin asked whether an author can truly control his matter, and determined that Hoccleve’s choice of challenging subject matter allows him to comment on his own mental composition as he puts his poetic form in order.

Melissa Isaacs (née Pankake) presented a paper, “‘Lerne to Dye’ and Narrating Despair,” that further allowed the audience to understand the purposes and content of Hoccleve’s self-reflection. Scholars who focus on the poet’s autobiographical revelations, she argued, tend to see the Series and the “Lerne to Dye” in particular as incomplete consolation. Viewed as a realistic response to old age and infirmity rather than as a typically Christian statement about “good death,” however, Moriens rather than the Disciple appears as the protagonist, and the poem proves to be Hoccleve’s opportunity to express an uneasiness people often have as they approach death.  Hoccleve fears the loss of self into death; writing about death might familiarize it and allow Hoccleve to ease into it by stages, offering catharsis and preparation not Christian repentance and consolation.

Likewise building off the Kierkegaardian notion that despair may be a normal state of human existence, Paul Magna questioned in his paper “Hoccleve’s Existential Crisis” the appropriateness and applicability of existential theory in the evaluation of self-narrative. While “crisis” is typically judged by Western socio-cultural standards as an allowable, if not common, experience in certain life junctures like puberty and middle age, Paul suggests Hoccleve wrote about stigmatized subjects like mental illness in order to stress the fundamentality of crisis periods to the human experience. Paul concluded that what makes Hoccleve touchable to modern readers is exactly what made him touchable to his contemporaries, which was the poet’s point entirely.

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IHS at the 20th Biennial Congress of the New Chaucer Society (London, 10-15 July 2016)

Aditi Nafde, University of Newcastle, and Elon Lang, The University of Texas at Austin, have organized a session for the 2016 NCS and we owe them a huge ‘thank you’ for their enthusiasm and hard work. The session is included in the Chaucerian Networks thread, and will run on Tuesday, 12th July, from 4:00-5:30 pm in PP2.

After Chaucer

Here is the original call for papers:

This roundtable seeks papers that address the influence and afterlife of manuscripts and text-makers that contributed to the continuity and development of England’s literary culture both during and after Chaucer’s life. We invite proposals that consider the networks of poets, scribes, books, and other cultural influences that led to Hoccleve’s famous identification of Chaucer as his poetic “fadir” and as the “firste fyndere of our fair langage”. What textual and cultural networks may have supported Chaucer’s early canonization and contributed to the broader fabric of late medieval literature? How might Chaucer’s as well as Hoccleve’s and others’ influence help us reposition the centre of late medieval literary and material culture? If so, how might other texts and authors be reconsidered in relation to Chaucer?

Papers might focus on codicological, palaeographical, and book historical work on books produced before and after Chaucer, on manuscripts that might have influenced Chaucer’s manuscripts, and on Chaucer’s works produced posthumously. Likewise, papers might examine readings that can be traced through Chaucer, both back to his influences and forward to Hoccleve and his other inheritors.

And here is the line-up for the roundtable:

  • Jenni Nuttall, St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford, “Form and Fashion in Lancastrian Poems”
  • Gabriel Haley, Concordia University, “Secularized Contemplation: Chaucer’s Lyrics in the Fifteenth Century”
  • Helen Hickey, University of Melbourne, “How Are Authors Made? Reading Chaucer and Hoccleve with the Encyclopedists”
  • Madeleine L. Saraceni, Yale University, “‘He fo in herte is vnto wommen alle’: Antagonism and Ambivalence in Hoccleve’s Series”
  • Phillipa Hardman, University of Reading, “A Late-Middle-English Literary Decorator: Chaucerian and Other Echoes in the Sowdone of Babylone”

Please consider joining the session for what promises to be a wonderful discussion of pre- and post- Chaucerian textual, intellectual, and cultural networks.


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Minutes from General Meeting, 30 September 2015

On 30 September 2015, IHS conducted its annual general meeting to discuss Society business and plan for the coming year. The meeting was a teleconference conducted via Skype, and the minutes are available here in PDF format.

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“Touching Hoccleve: The Social Cure” | The 2nd Annual Hoccleve Recovery Day

Although Hoccleve traces his recovery from mental illness to a spiritual intervention on All Hallows, his social recovery required the society of his peers.  Hoccleve encoded this recovery into his Series, depicting a conversation with a friend about his stability and desire to continue writing.  Similarly, a conversation with an old man dominated the prologue to the Regiment of Princes, in which Hoccleve sought career and life advice from a wise and caring passer-by.  His contacts and connections were remedy as well as motivation to overcome his ills.  Much critical work on Hoccleve centers on the emotions he portrays, and how his life was touched by the poverty, precarity, and anonymity of late medieval England.  Hoccleve imagined a recovery jointly financial, psychic, and physical, one that required an unraveling of his social disaffection.

Join us on 1 November 2015 in celebrating Hoccleve’s recovery of his London community by participating in this social media event, in which we touch on Hoccleve’s struggle with mental health by exploring the ways our lives touch each other within networks of wellness and support.  We invite you to post passages or images related to Hoccleve or his medieval peers, perhaps favorite lines from his poetry, a testimonial on why these verses should be remembered, or encouragement to Hoccleve and to each other in our daily efforts at the Privy Seal or in the academy. Please identify your posts and tweets with the hashtag #Hoccleve, and feel free to “like” or retweet thematically pertinent items throughout the day under this hashtag.  You may also attach other tags (#memory, #medievalistproblems, #emotion, #MSilluminations, etc.) after #Hoccleve as they are relevant. We will kick off the event with posts on our Twitter feed, Facebook account, and Tumblr page. So please follow us there and on this site!

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Call for Papers Kalamazoo 2016

Touching Hoccleve

Recent work in such fields as disability studies, book history, affect studies, the history of emotions, and cultural studies has raised provocative questions about the writings of Thomas Hoccleve, the fifteenth-century Privy Seal clerk and friend of Geoffrey Chaucer. Hoccleve’s autobiographical accounts of his struggles with mental illness, social disaffection, and the physical strain of writing have offered modern scholars fruitful sites for re-examining the body, its textual representations, and its affects in ways analogous to current work in these emergent interdisciplinary fields. In particular, Hoccleve’s texts permit critiques of the presupposition of normative, able bodies as well as explorations of the variety of non-rational, sub-discursive ways that bodies affect and are affected by their surroundings. Recent scholarly attention to both the discursive affects and material effects of Thomas Hoccleve’s poetry has offered numerous sites for touching the medieval to these modern interventions.

Our panel seeks papers that extend work along these critical interventions, organizing our thought around the metaphors of “touching” and “recovering.” Thomas Hoccleve’s affective and emotional economies stage the categories of wellness, malady, (dis)ability, precarity, and recovery in quixotic and often thought-provoking ways. The blurring languages of financial, mental, and physical recovery in Hoccleve’s poetics present a complex interaction between the physical and psychic burdens of a precarious life. We hope the panel will consider both the ways Hoccleve’s depictions of malady and recovery can be touching and the sites where modern critical methods can touch Hoccleve’s medieval world in ways similar to those proposed by affect theorists like Erin Manning and medieval literary scholars like Carolyn Dinshaw. We invite papers that touch upon Hocclevean recovery in all of its facets and forms, including his poetic descriptions of recovery and its attendant affects, the recovery of Hocclevean material, the medieval medical contexts of Hoccleve’s infirmities, the work of memory as an act of recovery in the past and the present, the place of the text in all of its materiality as a document of recovery, and the blurring of financial, psychic, and physical recovery. In other words, we ask what is touching about Hoccleve’s poetry – what does it mean to be touched by it, to touch on it, or to handle its material?

We hope to offer a more nuanced and sensitive account of the affects, emotions, bodies, and texts engendered by Hoccleve’s poetics of recovering while also remaining open to the ways that recovery and the poetics of touch can be risky (or risqué). We recognize that touching the past can be dangerous or have the potential to diminish or destroy the very material we seek to handle. Similarly, we are sensitive to the ways in which thinking, writing, and speaking about recovery and non-normative bodies or subject positions can be difficult, uncomfortable, potentially offensive, or otherwise disaffecting. To touch the past can be exposing. Yet, the past’s provocative power resides in its very exposures to us and its power to expose us in its brief brushes and gentle caresses. We take up Hocclevean recovery, then, in order to ask whether, how, and why it touches us and how we might continue to reach back a recovering hand to our Hocclevean texts.

Please submit abstracts and inquiries to The International Hoccleve Society at by September 15.

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The Year in Hoccleve, Volume 2 (Spring, 2015)

The Newsletter of the International Hoccleve Society, Volume 2 (Spring, 2015), is available. In the annual newsletter, you will find updates about IHS projects, a bibliography of publications and dissertations in Hoccleve studies, and summaries of important Hoccleve-related events and conference sessions.

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Remembering Hoccleve: The 1st Annual Hoccleve Recovery Day on Social Media

In his “Complaint,” Thomas Hoccleve claims that his memory returned to him on Alle Hallowmesse. In order to mark the occasion, the International Hoccleve Society invites you to join us in “Remembering Hoccleve” on 1 November 2014. We invite you to participate by posting short medieval passages and/or images on the following topics on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr: healing, the benefits of being among people, complaints about money, complaints about one’s perception in the world, images that show medieval medical practice, images related to Alle Hallowmesse and the autumn saints days, etc. Alternatively, you can participate by “remembering Hoccleve” in some other way, perhaps by sending or posting a favourite passage from his work (up to 14 lines) and a short explanation of why you think it should be remembered. Please identify your posts and tweets with the hashtag #Hoccleve.

Image courtesy of Detail from British Library MS Arundel 38 f. 37.

We will kick off the event with posts on our Twitter feed, Facebook account, and Tumblr page. So please follow us there and on our webpage! We hope you will join us by posting at least one item on 1 November under the hashtag #Hoccleve and liking or retweeting thematically pertinent items throughout the day under this hashtag. Please, of course, feel free to attach other hashtags (#memory, #medievalistproblems, #emotion, #MSilluminations, etc.) after #Hoccleve as they are relevant.


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Call for Papers Kalamazoo 2015

Hoccleve Less Studied

The International Hoccleve Society seeks to promote scholarly attention to the writings of Thomas Hoccleve, especially by providing a forum for reappraisals of and innovative approaches to his work. This year’s session turns its attention to the less-studied parts of Hoccleve’s oeuvre. The Society seeks to encourage scholars to challenge conventional notions of Hocclevian canonicity. In this session, we will work to destratify Hoccleve scholarship and create a polysystematic set of readings of Hoccleve’s lesser known works. In doing so we welcome presenters to use the “major texts” as points of departure while working to expand the boundaries of Hoccleve studies.

In our endeavor to disrupt the problematic differentia specifica of Hoccleve’s work at our Kalamazoo session, we seek to build upon the work of scholars who have begun this effort. For example, thoughtful criticism by Robyn Malo, Ethan Knapp, and Heather Hill-Vasquez, has persuasively demonstrated how Hoccleve’s ‘minor’ works, the “Letter to Cupid,” the “Address to Sir John Oldcastle” and the Marian Lyrics, are informed by many of the same literary traditions or discourses with which he engages in The Regiment of Princes. Others, such as Linne Mooney, Helen Hickey, and Ruth Nisse, have moved beyond the canonical understanding of Hoccleve as an autobiographical poet and thereby opened up all of his work to new interpretive frames of reference. The premise for this session is to continue conversations started by such scholars.

We seek papers that make an effort to de-familiarize Hoccleve studies by emphasizing Hoccleve’s texts that are not normally considered to have much weight in Hoccleve scholarship, and to explore the gravitational pull they might have to Medieval Studies and Fifteenth Century Studies as a whole. In particular, by looking beyond The Regiment of Princes, this session proposes a more robust and heterogeneous perspective on the Hocclevian literary corpus. We propose that participants consider not only under-represented texts, but also resonances within the texts themselves to each other and to both modern and medieval generic and scholarly discourses. Questions to consider might include: how might Hoccleve’s (over)use of the penitential genre affect its power to console? How might the Formulary expose genre indeterminacies by disseminating seemingly contradictory forms—the bureaucratic and the artistic—in the context of fifteenth-century poetry that exposes a fundamental instability of both genres? How might Hoccleve’s translations both undermine and reinforce ideas of masculine literary identity? By engaging in this carnivalesque celebration of textual expansion, we hope to turn Hoccleve’s lesser known works into their own competitive cooperation of divergent voices within this writer’s full literary corpus.

We especially welcome paper proposals that consider Hoccleve’s lesser known works in the context of theory, manuscript dissemination, textual history and/or media studies, modes of social engagement, and connections between themes, literary devices, language, and prosody.

Please send 250-word proposals to by September 15, 2014.

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Minutes from General Meeting, 19 May 2014

On 19 May 2014, IHS conducted its annual general meeting to discuss Society business and plan for the coming year. The meeting was a teleconference conducted via Skype, and the minutes are available here in PDF format.

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“Hoccleve in Dialogue” at Kalamazoo 2014

Please join us for our third sponsored session at Kalamazoo.

Hoccleve in Dialogue (Session 335)
Saturday May 10, 10:00am in Valley I, Ackley 104

Organizer and Presider: Amanda Walling, Univ. of Hartford

“Al in the glose folk laboure and swete”: Langlandian Doubt in the Regiment of Princes
–Spencer Strub, Univ. of California–Berkeley

Dialogic Collapse and Royal Presence: Inventio and the “Makyng” of a King in Thomas Hoccleve’s Regiment of Princes
–Taylor Cowdery, Harvard Univ.

“By communynge is the beste assay”: Thomas Hoccleve and the Centrality of Dialogue as a Socioliterary Practice
–Travis Neel, Ohio State Univ.

“Of Mescreantz” in Lancastrian England: Hoccleve and Gower
–David Watt, Univ. of Manitoba

Session Description:
The International Hoccleve Society seeks to promote scholarly attention to the writings of Thomas Hoccleve, especially by providing a forum for reappraisals of and innovative approaches to his work. This year’s session seeks to re-imagine Hoccleve’s place in the literary landscape of medieval England by placing him in dialogue with authors other than Chaucer. Although no one has done more to place Hoccleve in Chaucer’s shadow than Hoccleve himself, such critics as Derek Pearsall, Ethan Knapp, and John Bowers have done much to complicate our understanding of Hoccleve’s relationship to Chaucer’s work. The premise for this session is that new understandings of both Hoccleve and his peers might be gained if we seek out other currents of influence and exchange.

In particular, by challenging the genealogical framework of influence that Hoccleve himself championed, this session proposes a more heterogeneous and promiscuous Hocclevian literary sphere. We propose that participants consider not only underacknowledged sources and influences on Hoccleve’s work, but also resonances with the work of later authors or with literary currents with which Hoccleve may not have had direct contact. Connections with authors outside the direct Chaucerian tradition are especially welcome: what would it mean to see Hoccleve as a Langlandian, rather than a Chaucerian, poet (for example, via his use of personification, his topicality, or his poetic persona)? How can we think in new ways about Hoccleve and continental traditions (including such authors as Christine de Pizan, Machaut, Deschamps, or Deguileville)? How might his work resonate with other genres, such as debate poetry, romance, or lyric? Where can we locate points of correspondence between Hoccleve and later authors, who may not acknowledge him as their own Father Hoccleve?

Contact the session organizer, Amanda Walling, with any questions or to inquire about how to meet up with International Hoccleve Society members while at Kalamazoo.

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