A new view of Mester de Clerecia : myth and mythopoesis in the Milagros de Nuestra Señora and the Libro de Alexandre
A conventional view of the mester de clerecÌa poems contends that they are literary elements in the long-running campaign to extend churchly authority in all spheres. Taking this position, one could say that Berceo's appropriation of the Marian legends in his Milagros de Nuestra SeÒora imparts an ecclesiastical propaganda designed to control the mass of the faithful. Similarly, it could be said that the anonymous poet of the Libro de Alexandre utilized the conventions of the speculum principi to express political and ethical themes supportive of the Church's autonomy and influence. We can reconcile the seeming disparity between Berceo's populist tales and the Alexandre's glorification of the conqueror if we regard them as complementary expressions of the Church's egalitarian definition of community. To the degree that the ideology implied by the literary themes of the poems was efficiently disseminated throughout the population of vii medieval Europe, one could say that all Christians, from the poorest man to the most powerful King, were under the sway of the Church. But substantiating the details of the Church's multifarious agenda does not necessarily mean that poets are its conscious agents. This dissertation seeks to determine to what degree the mythology of the Virgin Mary, the cults of the saints, and the tales of pagan heroes served to justify and advance the Church's socio-economic, cultural, and political agendas during the medieval period. At the same time, I want to determine to what degree we may perceive lacunae in the didactic program. These would constitute both the space where art materializes, and gaps in the faÁade of orthodoxy that disclose covert mythologies that we could call counter-cultural. I investigate the manifestations of mythopoesis within these thirteenth-century texts in terms of a tension between the theory of Roland Barthes, which supports a unilateral bourgeois dominance of myth as a class-interest propaganda, and that of Antonio Gramsci, which postulates a dialectical conflict between hegemonic and popular-folkloric mythmaking. This project demonstrates that these radically opposing theories coalesce in the realm of poetry, which opens up the interpretation of text to a more concordant theory of mythopoesis.