Time Referents in The Regiment of Princes
by Karen Smyth
There are lots of ways in which moments, durations and sequences are marked in Hoccleve’s text. Quantity, though, is not the only significant feature: there are also some very distinct patterns concerning the type and location of the referents in the text. As such, below is a database of all such markings in The Regiment of Princes.
Rationale of Database
But why should we be interested in a list of all of the time markings in this text? After all, every narrative is structured by conceiving and inhabiting rhythms of time that vary in tempo and intensity, and through framing, sequencing, synchronisation and duration. We could claim this chart of time referents has been motivated by the relative paucity of literary reference guides or scholarly apparatus (beyond bibliographies and biographies) for fifteenth-century literature, despite the bourgeoning critical interest that has developed in the last few decades. However, there is a more specific reason as to why this kind of research tool is of value to this specific text. Hoccleve’s text is marked with a desire to understand, to experiment and to question the versatility of roles that time markings can play. The micro referents (listed below) unfold into a macro narrative concerning the poet’s understanding of time in poetic process.
Definition of Time Referents
The first thing to establish is what is meant by ‘micro time referents’. The ceaseless transformations in which nature is engaged – alternations of day and night, of the seasons, of birth to death, of wakefulness and sleep, of the lunar and solar phases – are in any age, in any society, reckoned and managed by devices. The nature, extent and combination of multiple coordinates of time allow for multiple and specifically context-dependent methods of arranging the narrative of time. Measurements of time require an examination of the small-scale impact that individual expressions create, and an investigation of the ways in which repeated use or varying functions of referents contribute to moving the narrative along in a particular, or in multiple, directions. These referents can be described, for instance, as regnal, calendrical, seasonal, mechanical; or as subjective and objective, traditional and modern, functional and aesthetic, structural and descriptive, communal and personal. These labels are not used to imply formulaic categories of medieval perceptions of time. There is no blueprint for exploring micro expressions of time. In one part of the poem a type of referent – such as a tide, a seasonal reference or astrological calculation – can have multiple functions. Rather, each micro expression of time can only be described in relation to its context, to the occasion, in which it is used. To that end, a simple list of the referents does not suffice for this database; an indication of the narrative context (the place where it is used and its effect on the narrative) also accompanies each referent.
Origins of this Database
This database is the result of research I undertook to write the book Imaginings of Time in Lydgate and Hoccleve’s Verse (Ashgate, 2011). However, there was no place within the book to include this list of referents and to that end this digital resource provides an ideal home. This list is intended as a research tool for further studies to be undertaken.
A Summary of Hoccleve’s Temporal Consciousness
In my published study, I concluded that Hoccleve considers the paradoxes of viewing time as an ordering tool while being uneasy about the nature of temporal representation. The time strategies employed by Hoccleve can be characterised as the centrality of consciousness of time in the construction, and the poet’s anticipated reception, of his work. Narrative framing devices and hermeneutical reading habits (involving past and present times, in both the readers’ time and fictional time) reveal the interpretative act as contextual, thereby demonstrating a keen awareness of temporal specificity.
Hoccleve’s interest is in what Mark Currie has described as the ‘correlative issue’ in ‘which the present is experienced in a mode of anticipation’. Currie explains:
Narrative is understood as retrospection more readily than it is understood as anticipation, but it cannot really be one without also being the other. If, in order to look back at what has happened, we tell a story, we must also know that the present is a story yet to be told. The present is the object of a future memory, and we live it as such, in anticipation of the story we will tell later, envisaging the present as past.
(Mark Currie, About Time: Narrative, Fiction and the Philosophy of Time, Edinburgh, 2007)
Although Currie is outlining his theory in relation to modern novels, this emphasis on the present as an anticipatory experience is a useful way to understand Hoccleve’s artistic negotiations with temporal structures. In Hoccleve’s work there is an overwhelming sense of living within the present in anticipation of the story. In The Regiment of Princes, this takes the form of an exchange between an Old Man and the Hoccleve-narrator: the narrator is trapped in his present consciousness with anxieties about the past and his future potential impinging on his current behaviour. Simultaneously, our consciousness of the advisory text that is to follow undermines the didactic reading strategies on offer. Thus temporal consciousness of the processes of interpretation in the Prologue complicates and undermines the universalizing effects of the indefinite time referents in the text-proper. In drawing our attention to how the present is a story yet to be told, Hoccleve gives voice to cultural anxieties about the unease of representations in time, of time management and of the ambiguities in processes of recollecting time.
However, while I have provided one reading of Hoccleve’s temporal strategies there are many more readings that can be made. To that end I have provided this digital archive with the concordance of list of time markings that I compiled in my research.
Scope of database:
This concordance lists all forms of time markings in the Regiment of Princes. Time referents have been understood as the micro markings that mark moments and durations (precise and abstract, objective and subjective) of people, nature and civilisations. Included therefore are: seasonal markings, astronomical, solar and lunar, astrological, planetary and zodiac, liturgical, prophetic, subjective, relative, objective, mechanical, historical, memorial, mnemonic and structural narrative time markings. Such a list of ‘types’ of referents is not intended to suggest a schematic construction or perception of time. Similar time indicators sometimes operate in different ways. Such findings disclose how time indicators act as significant micro structures, playing active, integral and occasionally dynamic roles in enacting the lessons of the narrative. I hope making the list below available will allow for yet more patterns to be discerned.
How to use the database
Listing time markings chronologically as they appear in The Regiment of Princes allows for an insight into Hoccleve’s art in context dependent time expression. It also allows those scholars who wish to explore specific aspects of medieval time consciousness – whether it is a study of the memory or of astronomy for instance, to also use this aid.
Ed. Charles R. Blyth. TEAMS Middle English Texts series. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1999. See online edition here.