Shamefast Hoccleve and shameless craving
in Practising shame
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This final chapter examines Hoccleve’s engagement with both female shamefastness and masculinity in two of his early works, the Letter of Cupid (his translation of Christine de Pizan’s anti-misogynist Epistre au dieu d’Amours) and La Male Regle, through the lens of what has been characterized as Hoccleve’s distinctive pattern of self-effacement. It argues that, in presenting himself as a ‘poore shamefast man’, Hoccleve plays on two of the key beliefs underpinning the medieval practice of honourable female shamefastness: the belief that such emotional practices can be learned, and the belief that they can also be counterfeited. The chapter begins by taking a closer look at the Middle English language of ‘manhood’ and ‘manliness’ in relation to shamefastness. It then turns to Hoccleve’s treatment of misleading appearances in his Letter of Cupid, in which Hoccleve claims to have proto-feminist intentions but ultimately suggests that the behaviour of neither men nor women can be taken at face value. Finally, it considers La Male Regle in order to show how Hoccleve exploits the idea of shamefastness as a replicable practice, transforming what medieval women were encouraged to make an apparently artless performance of virtue into a performance of conspicuous artifice.

Practising shame

Female honour in later medieval England

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