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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dr. Roger Ladd’s book examines early British literature

The cover of Dr. Roger A. Ladd’s new book has a photograph of a 14th-century English penny — showing the side with a cross, rather than the side with the king’s face.

Roger LaddIn an era framed by monarchy and church, Dr. Ladd examines the relationship between trade and ideology in 14th and 15th century England in his book “Antimercantilism in Late Medieval English Literature” (Palgrave McMillan; September 14, 2010).

It was an uneasy relationship that was portrayed in plays and other literature, Dr. Ladd said. A member of UNC Pembroke’s English Department faculty since 2003, he teaches world and British literature, upper-level courses in medieval and early modern British literature and a variety of other English courses.

Dr. Ladd examined several texts from late-medieval England for his book, including “The Canterbury Tales,” “Piers Plowman,” the “Mirour de ’Omme,” “The Book of Margery Kempe,” “The York Plays,” “The Libelle of Englyshe Polycye,” “The Childe of Bristowe” and the “Tale of Beryn.”

While Italy was experiencing a Renaissance built on trade and banking, Dr. Ladd said that England was in the late stages of its medieval period. While the weaving industry and guilds were on the rise, modern banking methods were still on the horizon.

Book Cover“I cannot overstate the relative disadvantage of England’s merchants at this stage,” he said. “Italy had superior trading vessels, a banking system and double-entry accounting.”

The state of the economy was intricately tied to the social and intellectual values of the time and was reflected in the period literature.

“In the early days of the church, there was a disdain for money, and charging interest on lending was banned,” Dr. Ladd said. “People who dealt in money were suspect, and these tensions continue through the ages.”

But a tipping point was near, and the church needed secure banking methods to return tithes to Rome, Dr. Ladd continued.

“I examine the anti-mercantile stereotype as it filters into literature,” he said. “New theories were surfacing that said risk justified profit.

“You see a tension in the literature of the period that I examine,” Dr. Ladd continued. “Many merchants were engaged in charity to alleviate moral anxiety, and in the popular play, ‘The Last Judgement,’ this practice was deemed good.”

The play was sponsored by a powerful York merchant guild, Dr. Ladd noted.

“They were spreading the righteousness of the church, while waving their flag in the background,” the scholar said. “Redemption could now be found in trade, and even children of aristocrats might chose to become merchants.

“The coin on the cover of my book is referred to by one medieval poet as ‘the cross of silver,’” Dr. Ladd said. “Another poet satirized the idea that lending money might be done ‘for love of the cross.’”

With the likeness of Edward III on the other side, the coin is a powerful, if changing, symbol.

“That’s why I bought that coin, and why I thought it would make a good cover for my book,” Dr. Ladd said.

The late-medieval period is the subject of his continuing research. His interest has led him to study author John Gower, a 14th-century poet.

Gower’s French work, the “Mirour de l’Omme,” is one of the works studied in Dr. Ladd’s new book.

“Back in 2008, I visited Gower’s tomb in Southwark Cathedral,” Dr. Ladd said. “Although he was English, his head rests on his three books: one in French, one in English, and one in Latin.”

As a towering intellectual of his time and a friend to Chaucer, Gower’s life and works are fertile ground for future study, Dr. Ladd said.

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