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The Erasure of Labor: Hoccleve, Caxton, and the Information Age

  • William Kuskin
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

The information age is widely understood as a technological revolution, a progressive advancement of capitalism into a post-industrial age. Kuskin argues that the transition from manuscript to print and from print to silicon chip run parallel: both demonstrate that labor is made invisible, erased, by capitalists for political reasons. This observation undermines the notion of a break from history to recall the enduring role of labor in cultural production.

Keywords

Literary Production Fifteenth Century Fourteenth Century Literary Culture Great Disruption 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation),” in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), p. 171.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    In this essay I suggest that Hoccleve and Caxton represent two intertwined, yet distinct English literary cultures, Lancastrian and Yorkist. Recent scholarship has become increasingly interested in Lancastrian literary culture, and Hoccleve’s Regement has served as a main point of exploration. Critical assessments of the Regement tend to be polarized. For these two views see David Lawton’s “Dullness and the Fifteenth Century,” ELH 54 (1987): 761–99, and Paul Strohm’s Usurpation and the Language of Legitimation, 1399–1422 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), pp. 173–214, the argument of which is reviewed in Strohm’s chapter “Hoccleve, Lydgate and the Lancastrian Court,” in The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature, ed. David Wallace (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 640–61. Growing interest in Hoccleve’s Regement is further reflected by the new TEAMS edition, Thomas Hoccleve: The Regiment of Princes, ed. Charles R. Blythe (Kalamazoo, MI: Western Michigan University, 1999), which contains a very useful introduction and bibliography. Caxton studies have been slower to develop, and as a result, Yorkist literary culture is often blurred into a generalized fifteenth-century worldview. See A.C. Spearing, Medieval to Renaissance in English Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985) and Richard Firth Green, Poets and Princepleasers: Literature and the English Court in the Late Middle Ages (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980). Recent discussions of Caxton are Seth Lerer’s Chaucer and His Readers: Imagining the Author in Late-Medieval England (Princeton University Press, 1993), pp. 147–75, and his chapter “William Caxton,” in The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature, pp. 720–38; and Jennifer Summit’s Lost Property: The Woman Writer and English Literary History, 1380–1589 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), pp. 81–107. See also my article “Reading Caxton: Transformations in Capital, Print and Persona in the Late Fifteenth Century,” New Medieval Literatures 3 (1999): 149–83, and the collection of essays on early print, Caxton’s Trace: Studies in the History of English Printing, ed. William Kuskin (forthcoming, University of Notre Dame Press), particularly David R. Carlson’s “A Theory of the Early English Printing Firm.”CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Carolyn Dinshaw, Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), p. 4. Dinshaw’s remarks derive from her reading of Chaucer’s short poem, “Adam Scryiven.” In addition to Lerer’s reading of “Adam Scryiven” in Chaucer and his Readers, pp. 117–46, see Joseph A. Dane and Seth Lerer, “Press Variants in John Stow’s Chaucer (1561) and the Text of ‘Adam Scriveyn,’” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 11 (1999): 468–79.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Blythe, Regiment, p. 1; Ethan Knapp, “Eulogies and Usurpations: Hoccleve and Chaucer Revisited,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 21 (1999): 296 [247–274], revised as chapter four of The Bureaucratic Muse-. Thomas Hoccleve and the Literature of Late Medieval England (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001), pp. 107–28; and Derek Pearsall, “Hoccleve’s Regement of Princes: The Poetics of Royal Self-Representation,” Speculum 69 (1994): 387–88.Google Scholar
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    For discussion of this link see Larry Scanlon, “The King’s Two Voices: Narrative and Power in Hoccleve’s Regement of Princes,” in Literary Practice and Social Change in Britain, ed. Lee Patterson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), pp. 216–47, revised for Narrative, Authority, and Power (Cambridge: Cambridge, University Press, 1994), pp. 299–322; Anthony J. Hasler, “Hoccleve’s Unregimented Body,” Paragraph 13 (1990): 164–83; Pearsall, “Hoccleve’s Regement” 386–410; Judith Ferster, Fictions of Advice: the Literature and Politics of Counsel in Late Medieval England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), pp. 137–59; James Simpson, “Nobody’s Man: Thomas Hoccleve’s Regement of Princes,” in London and Europe in the Later Middle Ages, ed. Julia Boffey and Pamela King (London: Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London, 1995), pp. 149–80; and Knapp, “Eulogies and Usurpations,” 247–73.Google Scholar
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    Hoccleve’s Works: The Regement of Princes and Fourteen Minor Poems from the Egerton MS. 615, ed. Fredrick J. Furnivall, EETS e.s. 72 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1897), 1. 1252. In all cases I have modernized long “s.” Line numbers hereafter cited parenthetically within the text.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    The Privy Seal began as the king’s private letter-writing instrument, but by the late fourteenth century this role was filled by the Signet office, and as a result the Privy Seal became a drafting office for warrants, dispatches, and instructions from the Signet to Chancery. See Ethan Knapp, “Bureaucratic Identity and the Construction of the Self in Hoccleve’s Formulary and La Male RegieSpeculum 74 (1999): 357–76 (also in The Bureaucratic Muse, pp. 17–44); John H. Fisher, “A Language Policy for Lancastrian England,” PMLA 107 (1992): 1168–80; Fisher, “Chancery and the Emergence of Standard Written English in the Fifteenth Century,” Speculum 52 (1977): 870–99; Malcom Richardson, “Henry V, the English Chancery, and Chancery English,” Speculum 55 (1980): 726–50; Compton A. Reeves, “Thomas Hoccleve, Bureaucrat,” Medievalia et Humanistica 5 (1974): 201–21; A.L. Brown, “The Privy Seal Clerks in the Early Fifteenth-Century” in The Study of Medieval Records: Essays in Honour of Kathleen Major, ed. D.A. Bullough and R.I. Storey (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), pp. 260–81; H.C. Schulz, “Thomas Hoccleve, Scribe,” Speculum 12 (1937): 71–81; T.F. Tout, “Literature and Learning in the English Civil Service in the Fourteenth Century,” Speculum 4 (1929): 365–89; Tout, “The Household of the Chancery and its Disintegration,” in Essays in History: Presented to Reginald Lane Poole, ed. H.W.C. Davis (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1927), pp. 46–85; and Tout, “The English Civil Service in the Fourteenth Century,” The John Rylands Library 3 (1916–1917): 185–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 17.
    In Hoccleve’s Works: The Minor Poems, ed. Fredrick J. Furnivall, EETS e.s. 61 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Limited, 1892), ll. 14–15. Line numbers from La Male Regle and the Series hereafter cited parenthetically within the text.Google Scholar
  9. 18.
    The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd. edition, ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), fragment IV, 11. 29, 32–33.Google Scholar
  10. 19.
    Caxton’s Book of Curtesye, ed. Frederick J. Furnivall, EETS e.s. 3 (London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, 1868), a verse courtesy manual that Caxton printed in 1477, includes mention of Hoccleve, as well as a stanza summary of “his traytye entitled of regemente” (1. 363), amongst its list of poetic “faders auncyente” (1. 400).Google Scholar
  11. 20.
    Most famously, A.I Doyle and M.B. Parkes have demonstrated that Hoccleve participated in the production crew behind the Trinity manuscript of John Gower’s Confessio Amantis, see “The Production of Copies of the Canterbury Tales and the Confessio Amantis in the Early Fifteenth Century,” in Medieval Scribes, Manuscripts, and Libraries: Essays Presented to N.R. Ker, ed. M.B. Parkes and A.G. Watson (London: Scolar Press, 1978), pp. 163–210. Further, Hoccleve’s third poem on the Virgin identifies Sir Thomas Marleburgh, a London stationer who at the time of the Regement rented two shops on Paternoster Row near St. Paul’s, and who by 1423 was a Warden of the Limners and Textwriter’s Guild, as his patron. See C. Paul Christianson, A Directory of London Stationers and Book Artisans, 1300–1500 (New York: The Bibliographical Society of America, 1990), pp. 33 and 131.Google Scholar
  12. 21.
    C. Paul Christianson, “A Community of Book Artisans in Chaucer’s London,” Viator 20 (1989): 209 [207–18].CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 22.
    Graham Pollard, “The Company of Stationers Before 1557,” The Library ser. iv. 18:1 (1937): 1–38; C. Paul Christianson, “The Rise of London’s Book-Trade,” in The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain: Volume III, 1400–1557, ed. Lotte Hellinga and J.B. Trapp (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 128–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 24.
    See Gervase Rosser, “Craft, Guilds and the Negotiation of Work in the Medieval Town,” Past and Present 154 (1997): 3–31; Heather Swanson, “The Illusion of Economic Structure: Craft Guilds in late Medieval English Towns,” Past and Present 121 (1988): 29–48; esp. 42; Sylvia L. Thrupp, “Medieval Gilds Reconsidered,” fournal of Economic History 2 (1943): 164–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 25.
    Christianson, “The Rise of London’s Book-Trade,” in The Cambridge History of the Book, p. 131, repeated from his article “Evidence for the Study of London’s Late Medieval Manuscript-Book Trade,” in Essays Towards a History of Book Production and Publishing in Britain, 1375–1474, ed. Derek Pearsall and Jeremy Griffiths (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 91.Google Scholar
  16. 26.
    “English Books In and Out of Court from Edward III to Henry VII,” in English Court Culture in the Later Middle Ages, ed. John Scattergood and J.W. Sherborne (London, 1983), p. 171 [163–181].Google Scholar
  17. 27.
    For Badby, see Peter McNiven, Heresy and Politics in the Reign of Henry IV: The Burning of John Badby (Suffolk: Boydell Press, 1987); Strohm, Empty Throne, pp. 210–11; and Pearsall, “Hoccleve’s Regement,” 403–10; more generally on vernacular theology see Nicholas Watson, “Censorship and Cultural Change in Late-Medieval England: Vernacular Theology, the Oxford Translation Debate, and Arundel’s Constitutions of 1409,” Speculum 70 (1995): 822–64. Following Hoccleve, discussion of vernacular theology goes hand-in-hand with his writing on gender. See Ruth Nissé, “‘Oure Fadres Olde and Modres’: Gender, Heresy, and Hoccleve’s Literary Politics,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 21 (1999): 275–99; Catherine Batt, “Hoccleve and … Feminism? Negotiating Meaning in The Regiment of Princes” in Essays on Thomas Hoccleve, ed. Catherine Batt (London: Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London, 1996), pp. 55–84; Diane Bornstein, “Anti-Feminism in Thomas Hoccleve’s Translation of Christine de Pizan’s Epistre au dieu d’amours,” English Language Notes 19 (1981–82): 7–14; and Karen Winstead, “‘I am al othir to yow than yee weene’: Hoccleve, Women, and the Series,” Philological Quarterly 72 (1993): 143–55.Google Scholar
  18. 29.
    For the argument that the fifteenth century did not appreciate Chaucer’s full range, see Paul Strohm, “Chaucer’s Fifteenth-Century Audience and the Narrowing of the ‘Chaucer Tradition,’” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 4 (1982): 3–32, and “Fourteenth- and Fifteenth-Century Writers and Readers of Chaucer,” in Genres, Themes, and Images in English Literature, ed. Piero Boitani and Anna Torti (Tubingen: Gunter Narr, 1988), pp. 90–104. There is much evidence against this view; for example, Hoccleve actually points out his use of the Wife of Bath’s Tale in the “Dialogue” section of the Series, where he announces, “The wyf of Bathe, take I for auctirce” (694). This point is underscored by Blythe, who notes that “given the predominance of Chaucer’s more earnest tales in the fifteenth-century editions of selected tales, it is striking that the two pilgrims whom Hoccleve makes greatest use of are the Wife of Bath and the Pardoner—pilgrims whose pronounced subjectivity and individual voice suited his own taste” (Regiment, p. 251).Google Scholar
  19. 30.
    Caxton printed two editions of The Game of Chesse. The STC lists ten extant copies of the first (STC 4920), and twelve of the second (STC 4921), but Seymour de Ricci records more: 11 existing copies and 8 untraced for the first, and thirteen existing, three untraced for the second; see A Census of Caxtons (1909; rpt in facsimile Mansfield Connecticut: Martino Publishing, 2000), p. 119. There is some debate surrounding the editions’ dates and sources, and this has been worked out by N.F. Blake in “Dating the First Books Printed in English,” in William Caxton and English Literary Culture (London: The Hambledon Press, 1991), pp. 75–87. The preferred date for the second edition is 1483; see Paul Needham, The Printer and the Pardoner (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1986), p. 87.Google Scholar
  20. 31.
    Robert H. Wilson identified composite manuscripts pre-existing Caxton and expanded our knowledge of Caxton’s original additions in “Caxton’s Chess Book,” Modern Language Notes 42 (1947): 93–102. These sources are discussed more definitively by Christine Knowles in “Caxton and his Two French Sources,” Modern Language Review 49 (1954): 417–23, where she clarifies Caxton’s translation technique and points out that he also used a Latin text. Caxton added three passages to the text itself. A defense of communal living based in his observations of the White Friars in tractate three, chapter two; a contrasting diatribe against “aduocats. men of lawe. And attorneyes of court,” who “ete they the peple,” in tractate three, chapter three; and, lastly, in tractate four, chapter one, a brief lament on “theeuis wyth in the royame or on the see”; in Caxton’s Game and Playe of the Chesse, 1474. ed. William E.A. Axon (1883; rpt. London: B.C.M. Classics Reprints, 1968), pp. 88, 95, and 162 respectively. Further citations to the Game of Chesse are from this volume and are noted parenthetically within the text.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 33.
    See Catherine Batt, “Recreation, the Exemplary and the Body in Caxton’s Game and Playe of the ChesseLudica 2 (1996): 27–44, esp. 28 and 37.Google Scholar
  22. 34.
    Caxton’s chief biographers, N.F. Blake and George D. Painter, Caxton and his World (London: Andre Deutch, 1969), find the Game of Chesse a product of patronage. Blake attributes the selection of the text to Margaret of York, and sees Caxton’s publication as a failed attempt to obtain Clarence’s patronage, concluding, “Caxton evidently wanted a patron who would recommend his work to his friends and even possibly help the printer set up his press in England. The choice was unfortunate” (p. 61). Blake goes on to suggest that in order to get rid of remainder copies, Caxton had to move to England. In contrast, Painter, William Caxton: A Biography (New York: G.P. Putnam & Sons, 1977), reads Caxton’s prologue as a coded message to Clarence, “but the inner secret of Caxton’s Game of Chess is only visible when we read between the lines of his dedication to George, Duke of Clarence, as no one seems to have done since Caxton’s own day” (p. 65). Painter leaves unexplained why Caxton would use the tremendously public forum of the printed book to transmit secret political analysis. Neither Blake’s nor Painter’s reading explains Caxton’s political relationship to the Yorkist house to any degree beyond a generalized patronage system, nor are they capable of suggesting why Caxton chose the Game of Chesse as his second text to put to press. More recently, Catherine Batt argues that Caxton “‘solves’ the implicit political question of to whom this material may be primarily directed by recasting it for a bourgeois audience in terms that do not interrogate the relation of subject to king so much as universalize the human condition and one’s perspective of it” (“Recreation,” 39). I have written elsewhere that the term “bourgeois audience” is insufficient to characterize the reading communities of the late Middle Ages, and is too static to delineate the dynamic relationship between Caxton and his audience (“Caxton’s Worthies Series: The Production of Literary Culture,” ELH 66 [1999]: 511–51); moreover, in what follows I question how interested Caxton is in “solving” anything, so much as in proposing new imaginative relations between the material production of books and the symbolic production of authority. Further, I disagree with Batt’s conclusion that an edition opening with an illustration of the dismemberment of a king and printed in the midst of the Usurpation Crisis “might appear comforting in its enunciation of the familiar and the proverbial” (43), and that “Caxton uncritically and complacently endorses the original’s portrayal of the body and its significance” (31). It is high time we stopped reading Caxton as naively conservative, placid and reactive, controlled in almost every way by an awkward combination of patronage and popular middle-brow taste, and started recognizing that he has an ongoing interest in thematic complexity, ambivalence and contradiction, and that many of the points within his writings are, in fact, in dialogue with the literary history he inherits and the texts he prints.Google Scholar
  23. 35.
    Caxton, Game and Playe of the Chesse, p. 1. Further citations to this text will be noted parenthetically “Caxton.” Vignay’s prologue is reprinted in WJ.B. Crotch, The Prologues and Epilogues of William Caxton (1928; rpt. New York: Burt Franklin, 1971), pp. 11–13.Google Scholar
  24. 36.
    See M.A. Hicks, False, Fleeting, Perjur’d Clarence: George, Duke of Clarence, 1449–18 (Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1980), pp. 124–26 and 176.Google Scholar
  25. 37.
    For the origins of the game of chess, as well as the etymology of Caxton’s term for the piece now called the “bishop” see Richard Eales, “The Game of Chess: An Aspect of Medieval Knightly Culture,” in The Ideals and Practice of Medieval Knighthood: Papers from the First and Second Strawberry Hill Conferences, ed. Christopher Harper-Bill and Ruth Harvey (Woodbridge, Suffolk; Dover, N.H: Boydell Press, 1986), pp. 12–34, and David Antin, “Caxton’s The Game and Playe of the ChesseJournal of the History of Ideas 29 (1968): 269–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 40.
    See Lotte Hellinga, Caxton in Focus (London: The British Library, 1982), p. 48; Blake, “Dating,” pp. 84–85; Painter, William Caxton, pp. 62–63.Google Scholar
  27. 41.
    See Painter, William Caxton, p. 70; Wytze Hellinga and Lotte Hellinga, The Fifteenth-Century Printing Types of the Low Countries, trans. D.A.S. Reid (Netherlands, 1966), Vol. I, p. 23.Google Scholar
  28. 43.
    See David R. Carlson, “Woodcut Illustrations of the Canterbury Tales, 1483–1602,” The Library ser. vi 19 (1997): 25–67, and Stephen Orgel, “Textual Icons: Reading Early Modern Illustrations,” in The Renaissance Computer: Knowledge in the First Age of Print, ed. Neil Rhodes and Jonathan Sawday (New York: Routledge, 2000), pp. 59–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    “Three Notes on Caxton,” The Library ser. iv 17 (1937): 161 [155–66]. See also Bühlers “Caxton’s Variants,” The Library ser. iv 17 (1937): 62–69.Google Scholar
  30. 46.
    See “Caxton’s Revisions: The ‘Game of Chess’, the ‘Mirror of the World’, and ‘Reynard the Fox,’” in Arthurian and Other Studies Presented to Shunichi Noguchi, ed. Takashi Suzuki and Tsuyoshi Mukai (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1993), p. 260 [257–62].Google Scholar
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    For the development of this “new form of capitalism,” see Jeremy Rifkin, The Age of Access: The New Culture of Hypercapitalism Where All of Life is a Paid-For Experience (New York: Putnam, 2000), p. 138; Fukuyama provides a useful review of the development of social capital in sociological studies, but omits the work of Pierre Bourdieu. I have found Bourdieu’s essay, “The Forms of Capital,” in Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, ed. John G. Richardson (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986), pp. 15–18, and 241–58, particularly concise.Google Scholar
  32. 50.
    For overviews of the development of the semiconductor industry with reference to Noyce, Sanders, and Sprock, see Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine, The Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer, 2nd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000), and David A. Kaplan, The Silicon Boys and their Valley of Dreams (New York: Perennial, 2000), pp. 38–72.Google Scholar
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    See For Marx, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Verso, 1990), pp. 88–128.Google Scholar

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© Kellie Robertson and Michael Uebel 2004

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  • William Kuskin

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