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Dr. Cole, Courtly Love, and a Tough Decision

Who is Marcelle Cole?
I was born and brought up in the UK. I’m from the London area and I went to Reading University. When I finished university, I went to Spain. I wanted to spend a few months there learning Spanish and ended up staying for eighteen years! This is partly because my mother’s Spanish and I’ve always been very interested in Spain. Even as a child I would dream of living there. I both studied and worked at the University of Seville.

Why did you come to the cold, cloudy, rainy Netherlands then?
I know, it was quite a change from Spain. I came here, initially, three years ago on a three -month research stay to finish my dissertation. I have a habit of going to places for three months and then I end up staying. I initially went to Spain for three months as well, so it’s becoming a bit of a reoccurring pattern. I ended up staying in the Netherlands because I got a job here. First, I got a job at the University of Utrecht, then my job here at the University of Leiden.

That’s cool, just to be able to do that, go somewhere and decide it’s nice and stay... I don’t think many of us would do that.
It’s either very brave or very stupid...

The Angler’s theme this time is the ‘Ode to James’, so we were wondering if you knew of any Old or Middle English James’ that were of importance? Or is it more an Early Modern name?
I think it’s a later name, a French loan, it’s not an Anglo-Saxon name. Now, if I were Professor Bremmer, I could probably give you the etymology of the name James. So... no, there wasn’t a James in Anglo-Saxon culture... it’s related to Jacob though, so there’s Jacob Grimm: a fine philologist!

Then we have the personal preference question: Sir Gawain or Floris (of Blancheflour)? There is a bit of preference division between the students in class. We tend to like either the romantic though foolish Sir Gawain, or we like the always-swooning-because-feelings-areoverwhelming Floris. Which one do you like best?
I think I would have to choose Floris because he’s melodramatic to the point of amusing. This swooning of his every other minute, from a medieval perspective, that’s a reflection of the intensity of his feelings, of course, but he is prone to drama-queen behaviour. I find him quite endearing... I would belong to team Floris then. What team are you on?

Good! I think the intensity of his love for Blancheflour is very moving as well. He really doesn’t ever give up on her, and that’s very touching

Why Philology?
I thought you might ask that, it’s always the worse question! Why philology... okay... I often ask myself this as well. I think it’s related to a general interest that I have in history and in adopting a historical perspective on issues as. There are a lot of different aspects to philology as well; there’s the linguistic aspect, and the more literary aspect, and the cultural aspect, of course. I’m very interested in how language changes, why it changes and what factors influence language change. What interests me about the literature is not only the tales in themselves, but also how the outside world feeds into the text. The way in which the literature of the time functions as a window into the medieval world and its social and political concerns. That’s what I find fascinating. You always have to be careful of course, because literature provides us with insights into the world as it was back then, but does it? At the same time it might also be shaping the culture it was seemingly only describing. I’m also interested in our modern perspective of the Middle Ages and how our perspective is very much a modern construct. One of many examples would be the way in which the traditional view of history perceives a break between the classical influenced Renaissance and the Middle Ages which denies the fact that the medieval age was already very much conversant with the classical world.

We know there are a lot of Middle English traditions, and one of the questions that was contributed to me is: which Middle English tradition would you like to see re-installed in the present day?
I might have to think about this one... What an interesting question... Now Thijs would probably come up with a really funny one... It’s a really lovely question. – moment of silence- I can’t get it out of my head, I don’t know why, but I keep thinking of Saint Aethelthryth and the insight she gives us into the position of women in the Middle Ages... in the early Anglo-Saxon period there were large mixed monasteries that housed both nuns and monks. Very often these monasteries were run by women which placed them in positions of great authority as heads of large educational institutions. A few more women in top positions like that nowadays wouldn’t go amiss! I’d also like to reintroduce the absolute veneration of the female figure. We could, couldn’t we?

Courtly love could be re-introduced in my opinion.
Do you think so? Yes, the absolute adoration of women by men! Do you like that idea as well? Knights going on quests for their ladies... which completely contradicts my first very feminist idea, which is appropriate given the contradictory nature of the Middle Ages!

Finally, what are your future academic plans?
Oh dear, this sounds like an interview! A lot of the research I carry out focuses on historical linguistics. My research at the moment is orientated in that direction and is mainly on Old Northumbrian, which is the northern dialect of Old English. I find it a particularly fascinating dialect because it’s very different to other Old English dialects, such as West Saxon, which is, of course, the dialect you study when you learn Old English. Old Northumbrian is very different to West Saxon. It’s interesting because it’s already much closer to the Middle English stage than other Old English dialect. There’s a great deal of old research into Old Northumbrian, but not much recent research and I think that its study can still provide us with a lot of interesting linguistic insights into the history of the English language. Up until now I’ve looked at Old Northumbrian verbal morphosyntax, but there are other aspects that I would like to consider to see what light they shed on the history of English.

By Rena Bood