Friday, June 18, 2010

The Romance of England

I read Geraldine Heng's "The Romance of England: Richard Coer de Lyon, Saracens, Jews, and the Politics of Race and Nation". It's this really fascinating discussion of a romance about Richard I (or Richard the Lionheart, as he's commonly known) and the fictional cannibalism in that romance and how it relates to racist conceptions of Saracens and Jews in the middle ages. I was aware that Richard was king during some major anti-Semitic massacres and killings, and that Richard only sort of cared, but my classes on medieval history never discussed this romance.
Heng makes some really interesting arguments. I particularly like the one about how the English are represented as the chosen people within the story. A lot of this reminds me of the roman a clef-like representation that Frances E.W. Harper does in her epic poem "Moses," where the chosen people are African Americans and the evil Egyptians are white people.
I love the idea of taking a piece of medieval text and discussing it in its cultural and historical context. This is what I've done a lot of the last few years, but usually I'm working with something more recent. But I'd like to read more about these ideas, especially since Heng makes some really interesting conclusions that sound perfect for more work to be done on them. The piece implies that other romances should be read with race and nationalistic movements in mind to further illuminate that romance and the culture that produced and consumed it. Going back to the Song of Roland, an epic poem, not a romance, as I did for an earlier post on medieval literature, I remember reading the descriptions of the Moors and thinking about what a race fail it was, since the Moors are every stereotype of Africans and Muslims: crazy, savage, ignorant, and polytheistic.

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