Abstracts for 2018 symposium


Albrecht Classen, University of Arizona: Drinking, Partying, Drunkenness in Late Medieval Verse Narratives and Jest Narratives

In the world of courtly literature there are hardly any references to party life, heavy drinking, and drunkenness. This radically changes in the late Middle Ages, as urban authors increasingly talked about leisure times and activities, often with rather negative consequences. Here I will examine the example of the Wiener Meerfahrt and Heinrich Wittenwiler's Der Ring, and combine this with an analysis of a variety of didactic texts.


Thomas Willard, University of Arizona: ‘His usuall Retyrement’: Leisure and Duty in the Early Writing of Henry Vaughan

For young men coming of age in the British isles during the 1640s, the long series of civil wars between the forces of Parliament and the king marked an end to what books of conduct called “the planned life.” For Henry Vaughan (ca. 1621-1695), the oldest son of a long established family in the Welsh county of Brecon, the outbreak of war in 1642 meant the end of his legal studies in London as well as his time in taverns where young poets gathered. Called home by his father, he considered that his formal education was ended, leaving no prospects ahead of him. He clerked briefly for a local judge and fought for the king in at least one battle, but he spent most of his time with poetry and humane letters (literarum humaniorum). Like many others of his generation, and especially those who sided with the royalist cause, he saw life in terms of the ancient distinction between virtuous action (negotium) and leisurely retirement (otium), along with the possibility of carrying on public duty within private life.


Vaughan expressed this tension in his first book of poetry (1645), where he wrote about the common theme of “retirement” from ordinary duties. He devoted half the volume to his translation of Juvenal’s tenth satire, which Samuel Johnson later imitated in “The Vanity of Human Wishes.” Vaughan considered that Juvenal “had as much true Passion, for the infirmities of that [Roman] state, as we should have Pitty, to the distractions of our owne.” He later found work as a physician and consolation in religious devotion and poetry, but he wrote from a strictly secular perspective before that, as a single young man seeking companionship and simple pleasures in a deeply divided world. This paper will consider how Classical conceptions of the well-lived life affected social mores and literary production in early modern Britain.