This short paper was presented at the 46th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo in 2011.
According to Emily Steiner in Documentary Culture and the Making of Middle English Literature, the social dimension of the lyric lies “not only in legal practice but also the textual apparatus of the law, the formal and material processes by which legal documents come into being” (2003: 33). Such processes inform our understanding of the performative power of lyric, or rather, its power to have a material effect upon the world. In this talk I inquire into what lyric charters of feoffment and manumission might suggest about the performative power of rhyme in Middle English.
Middle English rhyming charters pose some intriguing questions. Was rhyme imagined to enhance the performance of legal acts in the world, and did such acts interpellate a lyric subject? Was the performative legal power of lyric somehow related to the spiritual power that medieval people attributed to prayers and devotions? Like the Middle English charters of Christ, these verse charters attempt to enact the voice and gift of a long-dead king. Assessing these verse charters more closely may therefore provide insight into the medieval imagination of lyric as a material object.