Mooney, Linne R., and Mary-Jo Arn, eds.
The Kingis Quair amd Other Prison Poems
TEAMS Middle English Texts Series
Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, in association with the University of Rochester, 2005
Pp. vii, 202$16.00 (pb) 1-58044-093-2
The Kingis Quair and Other Prison Poems is part of the TEAMS Middle English Text Series published by the Medieval Institute Publications at Western Michigan University. These editions of Middle English texts are designed to be used for teaching purposes and in this respect Linne Mooney and Mary-Jo Arn's work will be a successful addition to TEAMS' catalogue.
The poems included in the edition are James I of Scotland's Kingis Quair; Charles d'Orléans' Fortunes Stabilnes; George Ashby's Complaint of a Prisoner in the Fleet; and two un-attributed poems, Complaint of a Prisoner against Fortune and The Lufaris Complaynt. The collection of poems, all dating from the fifteenth century, is given coherence by the theme of imprisonment. In this way the editors force the reader to consider these poems in a new and intriguing way. The poems can thus be reviewed both individually and comparatively, most notably in the case of James I and Charles d'Orléans' poems, where their shared experience in English captivity is emphasised. However, the editors argue that these poems are not only accounts of real experiences in prison, but that their authors also use the idea of imprisonment as a literary device. This is especially evident in the Lufaris Complaynt and the collection's showpiece, the Kingis Quair, where James I's prison represents not only the physical place in which he lives, but also the emotional place in which his soul resides upon falling in love with Joan Beaufort.
Mooney and Arn have produced an excellent tool for the undergraduate classroom. Here they have provided long-overdue editions of some complex Middle English poetry in a form which suits the demands of a modern student. There is a general introduction which brings the collection together and highlights why the study of these texts in comparison might be revealing. Each poem is then treated in turn, with an individual introduction, a reasonably extensive and neatly-organised bibliography, and thorough explanatory and textual notes. The poems themselves are well edited and conveniently presented with a detailed gloss placed alongside the text for ease of reading. The choice of illustrations, however, suggests the editors wished to include the c.1485 image of Charles d'Orléans in the Tower of London held in the British Library (MS Royal 16 F.ii, fol. 73r), but struggled to find appropriate examples for the other poems.** This has resulted in Ashby's poem and the un-attributed verses being devoid of illustrative accompaniment, and the Kingis Quair being illuminated by two nineteenth-century paintings by the Pre-Raphaelite artist William Scott Bell. The latter add minimal value for teaching purposes and perhaps it may have been better to deploy the BL MS Royal 16 image more effectively.
Overall, however, this would be a useful addition to the resources of many who teach these poems and is an edition which will please a great number of students of the texts. Although the placing of the poems in a thematic group forces the reader to consider how the author uses the idea of prison, the texts should not be restricted to their use in this context. In fact, they might readily replace other versions in all classrooms of literature, language and history.
Katie Stevenson, University of St. Andrews
**Actually, we didn’t struggle at all. We were delighted to stumble across a series of largely unknown nineteenth-century etching made to accompany the text of the King’s Quair. We included two of them for a number of reasons. They illustrate the story very closely. They were made in a period in which everything medieval was very much in vogue. We gave them a very detailed caption so that no student would be misled into thinking they were actually medieval. We thought they provided a perfect teaching moment for the teacher who wanted to contrast medieval illumination (the Charles d’Orléans in the Tower miniature) with much more modern art--or even wanted to use them to say something about medieval vs. modern culture. We think they add much more than minimal value for teaching purposes. (We believe that these were the first illustrations printed in a TEAMS volume--but we could be wrong about that. M.A.)
The Medieval Review.Ann Arbor: University of Michigan University Library,
Scholarly Publishing Office2006