This lecture will focus not on Middle Ages as a period of history, but rather the metaphorical implications that reside in ‘The Middle Ages’ and the adjective ‘medieval’ when they are deployed in global Anglophone public discourse. Examples of contemporary usage will be drawn from print, digital and broadcast media to demonstrate how deeply embedded the metaphor of The Middle Ages is within Anglophone public discourse, and to build up a detailed picture of what kind of work this metaphor currently does in Anglophone societies. As an example, deployment of the term ‘medieval’ in Western media to describe the actions of Isis/Daesh will be interrogated; other examples may be drawn from the reporting of events occurring in the weeks leading up to the lecture. The lecture will conclude by arguing a personal viewpoint: that ‘the middle age’ has always been metaphorical from its fourteenth-century origins; and that ‘medieval’ is a major trope by which the West (or at least the Anglophone West) narrates and governs its relationship with the rest of the globe.
Chris Jones is a senior lecturer in English at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. He is the author of Strange Likeness: the use of Old English in twentieth-century poetry (2006), which was shortlisted for the European Society for the Study of English (ESSE) ‘best book’ prize of 2007. Together with Bettina Bildhauer he has co-edited the collection The Middle Ages in the Modern World, which will be published as part of the Proceedings of the British Academy series later this year. His second monograph is currently in press Fossil Poetry: Anglo-Saxonism and linguistic nativism in nineteenth-century poetry.