The Year in Hoccleve, Volume 4.1 (Spring 2017)

The Newsletter of the International Hoccleve Society, Volume 4.1 (Spring 2017), 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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3rd Annual Hoccleve Recovery Day on Social Media

As we have done for the last couple years the International Hoccleve Society is very pleased to be sponsoring the 3rd Annual Hoccleve Recovery Day, this November 1 on social media. We are excited to welcome you and your students to participate by posting something related to our theme (and perhaps to Hoccleve) with the hashtag #Hoccleve at least once on a major social media site like Facebook or Twitter that day. The theme this year is “What are the things we recover?” Our full call is below the line. We really hope you will participate and we look forward to seeing what you’ll post!

The International Hoccleve Society Sponsors the 3rd Annual Hoccleve Recovery Day: “What are the things we recover?”

What are the things that we recover in our working and private lives? To what must we return in order to know ourselves? What things must we wait for–patiently, virtuously–to come back to us? Just as Thomas Hoccleve signals his recovery of mental health in his “Complaint” (lines 50-56) by describing how his memory “went to pleye as for a certayne space” but then “the lorde of vertew…made it to Alle Hallowmesse” we invite you to join us on All Hallows Day (November 1st) to reflect on ideas of recovery and return that inform our lives as medievalists.

The International Hoccleve Society invites you to join us in our social media communities on 1 November 2016 to celebrate Hoccleve’s recovery of his work community, his mental faculties, his routines as an urban office worker and family man, etc. by exploring what you “recover” in your work and other daily activities. What do you return to regularly and what returns to you to guide, animate, and energize your life and habits as a medievalist? What have you recovered recently in your readings, research, internet surfing, filing, or remembering that has made you think about your medieval interests (professional or recreational) and their place in the world?

We invite you to post a short passage of verse or criticism, an image of places, manuscripts, printed books, or people, and/or a brief note reflecting on why certain items or ideas have been or ought to be recovered in our attention. Please identify your posts and tweets on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pintrest, LinkedIn and our Website 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 (#recovery, #thisiswhataprofessorlookslike, #MiddleEnglish, #MSilluminations, etc.) after #Hoccleve. We will kick off the event with posts on our Society and Hoccleve Lyfe Coache, Twitter and Facebook feeds. So please follow us and like us to stay tuned!


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Calls for Papers Kalamazoo 2017

IHS is pleased to announce that we will be sponsoring two sessions–“Hoccleve at Play” and “Teaching Hoccleve”–at the 2017 ICMS in Kalamazoo. Please send one-page abstracts, noting for which session you would like to be considered, along with a Participant Information Form ( to Danielle Bradley ( by 15 September 2016.  Inquiries also welcome.

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. 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.”  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 with 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.


Teaching Hoccleve

There is a subtle irony in the fact that Thomas Hoccleve, whose corpus of early fifteenth-century poems is saturated with the concepts of recovery and rehabilitation, has been at the center of a decades-long process of poetic and pedagogic rehabilitation in university English departments. No longer brushed aside as a mere epigone of Geoffrey Chaucer, the traditional nucleus of Medieval English literature syllabi, Hoccleve now claims a legitimate place in the late medieval canon.  But what is that place exactly, as far as college classrooms go? The International Hoccleve Society wishes to evaluate current and potential uses of Hoccleve’s poetry in literature, comparative literature, and history curricula.  We appeal to instructors to share their experiences teaching Hoccleve to various sorts of university undergraduate, graduate, and secondary-school classrooms, and to recommend lesson plans, assignments and in-class exercises, and pedagogical approaches to Hoccleve’s oeuvre.

One goal is to evaluate the effects of institutional contexts of instruction, for instance the experience of teaching Hoccleve at four-year universities versus community colleges, within history versus literature departments, and for survey courses versus upper-level seminars. What do students find entertaining or surprising about his poetry, and what difficult?  What does this teach us about the size of Hoccleve’s rightful place in a syllabus on medieval or late medieval subject matter?  Is he rightfully taught as a subordinate within a a post-Chaucerian framework, or can one envision an upper-level undergraduate or graduate literature course focused on Hoccleve? What would that look like?

Secondly, we wish participants to discuss Hoccleve’s role in critical paradigms, including how his poetry might usefully illustrate (or be illustrated by) theories like new historicism, new formalism, feminist and queer theory, narratology, cultural studies, postcolonialism, affect theory, or deconstruction. What opportunities does Hoccleve provide students in questioning medieval genre, periodization, popular spirituality, administrative culture, socio-economic class structures, urban life, political commentary and resistance, or the rise of the individual?  Is Hoccleve a useful nexus for interdisciplinarity?

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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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