Menu
Home
Log in / Register
 
Home arrow Language & Literature arrow Language myths and the history of English
Source

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE ASC: THE END OF A DISCOURSE ARCHIVE

The identity of the second scribe’s/narrator’s listener/reader obviously cannot be reconstructed. The pronoun pu could just as easily have been a variant for the impersonal man, or even for the scribe himself. But pu is still a much more personal form of address than man, and is to be found nowhere else throughout the rest of the ASC. Whoever the imagined addressee was, it most certainly was not the same to whom the texts were read out at the old witenagemote. By the twelfth century, writing a chronicle annal in English (rather than in Latin) had become writing a narrative, with a beginning and an end and, as in the case of the 1137 annal, with a frame of reference. The story told in the Peterborough Chronicle is no longer about politically significant events and personages in the kingdom, but about the fate of the abbey of Peterborough, which narrows the circle of possible co-referents for pu quite considerably. But it is also about the horrors of the anarchy during King Stephen’s reign, and it thus becomes a narrative offering rich opportunities for evaluation, narrative embellishment, narrative perspective and—ultimately—condemnation of King Stephen himself and of the whole Norman royal house on the accession of the first Angevin/Plantagenet king, Henry II. It is therefore feasible that the propaganda effect was welcome to Henry, but certainly not the continuation of a potentially subversive voice in the vernacular. This may explain why the scribe/narrator phrases the last sentence of the ASC in so final a way and also why he uses the deontic modality in ne mai (“may not”) in the 1137 annal.

There is, however, a deeper reason that the disappearance of the ASC can be interpreted as the end of an archive, and it has to do with the late medieval conceptualisation of history as a cyclic progression of states ranging on a cline from good to evil and from order to disorder. After the Conquest, feudal society established itself through the church and the monarch, and with it an archive developed that differed considerably from that which was discursively supported by the ASC.

What was that new archive? In the late medieval world a person’s life on earth was considered to be transitory, a state of existence in which she earned either an eternal life in heaven or eternal damnation in hell. Social life on earth was ordered hierarchically in terms of estates, the first of these being the clergy, the second the nobility and the third the common people. 1 3 The first estate and the second and third estates together were organised in pyramidal form, each with a representative of God at the top apex of the pyramid, the pope representing the first estate and the sovereign (king, prince, etc.) representing the second estate. History thus concerned itself with a chronological [1]

succession of popes and kings, some of whom carried out their duties in exemplary fashion, whereas others did not. A “bad” king, who was unable to preserve order and protect his subjects, might be followed by a “good” king. History was thus not concerned with the linearity of time, since time meant nothing when compared to the eternity of the hereafter, and the pyramidal structure of society was meant to stay in place and remain static rather than to develop and change.

The cyclic succession of secular and religious leaders between the two poles of “good” and “bad” was to be written in the sacred language Latin rather than in the vernacular English. As a result, chronicles began to be written in the scriptoria across England in Latin, their subject matter being the whole history of Britain from earliest mythical times to the present including stories devoted to legendary kings such as Brutus (hence the term “Brut chronicle”), Lear and Arthur.[2] As such, the Brut chronicles were a guarantee that the structure of society could be preserved as it was, with the king at its apex, good or bad, and with the values of chivalry upheld in the second estate. Brut chroniclers were clerics, and they were uniquely concerned with the deeds—in Latin, gesta—of kings, princes, nobility, bishops and popes, but most definitely not with the sufferings of the common people. Narrative was called for, but not the personal, author-centred local narrative that we see in the Second Continuation.

Developments in the ASC from the late tenth century on show the following tendencies:

  • - longer and less easily memorised annals
  • - a move towards more narrative structure with the increasing use of metapragmatic linguistic expressions to effect narrative evaluation; that is, an increase in inscribed orality ending, as we have seen, in the narrator-centred history of the Second Continuation
  • - an increase, particularly in the Peterborough Chronicle, in the focus on local rather than national topics
  • - an empathetic, critical narrative persona, particularly in the First and Second Continuations of the Peterborough Chronicle
  • - an overt sympathy for common people, specifically in the Second Continuation

When we reach the Second Continuation, we find that the ASC presents an unofficial historical record of a period of anarchy and civil war in a highly personalised account, a form of “antidiscourse”. It points an accusing finger at a king who allowed his kingdom to get out of control. The scribe has now taken over the role of a narrator, rather than an “official” scribe, so that the ASC can no longer be seen as part of a hegemonic discourse archive. We might speculate that this last chronicle text written in vernacular prose was sanctioned by royal authority to put a final, nonauthoritative seal on the Anglo-Saxon and Norman periods of English history. This would, of course, be pure speculation, but it would certainly fit the facts, given that the beginning of Henry II’s reign heralded the official institutionalisation of common law, introducing trial by jury and a centralised system of judges sent out regularly to different parts of the country to resolve legal disputes (the so-called assizes). Law texts had long become divorced from chronicle writing. Thus the ASC no longer represented an official archive that “[imposed] restrictions on what can be said meaningfully”.

Foucault’s conceptualistion of discourse, in which “all of the objects, forms and themes of discursive statements are historically linked to the external conditions of discourse production” implies not only that no discourse is sociohistorically decontextualised but also that the extralinguistic historical context plays a not insignificant role with respect to the form that the discourse takes. I have shown how the movement towards increased instances of inscribed orality can be interpreted as signs that the original archive to which the discourse belonged had become moribund by the early twelfth century. I have also shown how the Second Continuation might be viewed as politically subversive in its criticism of King Stephen. We now need to reconsider this interpretation in a possible contextualisation of the text.

In section 4.1, I questioned whether the last surviving copy of the ASC, the Peterborough Chronicle, might not have become an alternative antidiscourse at least in the Second Continuation. When the historical facts are reviewed, this argument becomes even more plausible. First, the Second Continuation was, in all probability, written up after the death of King Stephen in the first year of Henry II’s reign. Second, the whole period from 1132 to 1154 is framed within Martin’s service as abbot of Peterborough. Third, as we know, Martin was a “prior at St. Neot’s” and probably of English extraction, whereas the new abbot had a distinctly French name, William de Vatteville, indicating provenance from the Continent. Fourth, the final sentence wishes William well in his position as abbot and has an odd finality to it. Fifth, Henry II was Matilda’s son from her second marriage, to the Count of Anjou, and Matilda was Henry I’s daughter and the rightful heir to the throne of England. And sixth, the hegemonic discourse archive at the beginning of Henry II’s reign supported statements to the effect that history should be presented cyclically and should have no effect on the static nature of social structure, and it rejected statements that history should concern itself with the common people rather than those in the first and second estates.

One further intriguing piece of speculation might be suggested here. Might it have been the case that Henry commissioned this last part of the ASC to discredit not only Stephen but also the Norman royal dynasty? We will never know, but the ASC had been used before for propaganda purposes, and at this time it had run its race as a significant part of a dominant discourse archive.

Other forms of chronicle writing in Latin, the Brut chronicles, had developed from the late eleventh century on, and they were continued into the fourteenth century. Works documenting history, topography, culture, legend, and so on were of a nonpolitical nature and did not therefore endanger the new dominant discourse archive, particularly as they were produced in an ecclesiastical context in which the majority of high-ranking clerics were of Anglo-Norman or French extraction and the language of the church was Latin.

On the other hand, the officially permitted (or at least overlooked) subversive context of the Second Continuation, in which the narrative voice is so close to the reader and so full of a feeling of outrage and righteousness, is characterised by metapragmatic and metadiscursive expressions that are typical of inscribed orality, and, I would suggest, the inscribed orality of an antidiscourse. The urge to tell the stories of a people from perspectives other than the officially permitted is again—and in the vernacular language, English— evident in the London chronicles of the fifteenth century (see McLaren 2002), and it emerges in full force in the sixteenth century. This new tradition of chronicle writing in English insisted, if not on objectivity, then at least on multivocality, and it is no exaggeration to suggest that the Second Continuation of the Peterborough Chronicle, 400 years earlier, provides a foretaste, perhaps even a model, for writing outside the dominant discourse archive.

One final postscript is in order to conclude this chapter. Cecily Clark (1958: xii) makes the following interesting observation concerning the Peterborough Chronicle:

That this is, as tradition claims, a Peterborough book is beyond question, in spite of its apparent omission from the medieval Peterborough catalogues (unless indeed it is disguised as Elfredi regis liber anglicus in the twelfth-century booklist in MS. Bodley 163).

Why should it have been omitted? Or if it was included, why under disguise? Perhaps this is a further piece of evidence that it was, or had become, subversive!

  • [1] The duty of the first estate (the clergy) was to take care of the spiritual well-being of others—to seeto it that as many as possible did achieve eternal life in heaven and not eternal damnation in hell. The duty ofthe second estate was to physically protect others from outside aggression and to ensure order (i.e. to fight). Theduty of the third estate was to work to provide the means to survive while alive on earth.
  • [2] There is one notable exception to the condition that they should be written in Latin, and that isLayamon's Brut, also known as the Chronicle of Britain, written around 1190 in verse by the English priestLayamon and based on the Anglo-Norman poem Roman de Brut by Wace. Translations into English of Brutchronicles do not appear until the late fourteenth century, the first of these being John de Trevisa’s translationof Ranulph Higden’s popular Polychronicon.
 
Source
Found a mistake? Please highlight the word and press Shift + Enter  
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >
 
Subjects
Accounting
Business & Finance
Communication
Computer Science
Economics
Education
Engineering
Environment
Geography
Health
History
Language & Literature
Law
Management
Marketing
Mathematics
Political science
Philosophy
Psychology
Religion
Sociology
Travel