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Shame and the subject of women’s bodies

’s Kind in Childing , Douce Version, 24–31) 1 To begin a book by threatening one's readers seems counterintuitive (not to mention rude). Yet this is precisely what the author of one fourteenth-century Middle English gynaecological treatise chose to do. In the prologue of a text now known as The Knowing of Woman’s Kind in Childing , the passage above (which is not found in its sources) warns any men who might happen to read the treatise not to read it in

in Practising shame

Some romances  – including Athelston and the Robin Hood ballads – do use mappable landscapes, locatable roads and their interruptions to intercede topically in discourses of region, nation and inter-nation. Athelston and the Robin Hood ballads, however, deploy roadworks in diametrically opposed ways because they stake very different claims in the courtly interests of Middle English romance. While Athelston fits squarely within traditions of family and local romance, defending gentle behaviour but fiercely critiquing monarchical high-handedness, the Robin Hood ballads

in Roadworks
Textus and oath-books

book that was used in rituals. Two such textus were employed by Hubert de Burgh (d. 1243), and link Masses with oath-rituals, leading us into the realm of courts of law and oath-books. Court records, canon and common law treatises, and Middle English literary narratives all portray the elusive nature of oath-books, which were used in complex rituals. A few surviving manuscripts, and the oaths of medieval Jews, assist in defining the nature of these books, which followed appearance and antiquity. After exploring each of these issues, the conclusion of this chapter

in Approaching the Bible in medieval England

Chaucer. 4 While Hoccleve's work is undoubtedly self-effacing, if we adopt the postmedieval language of ‘embarrassment’ in our discussions of the phenomenon we overlook the Middle English discourse and imagery of shamefastness that Hoccleve uses, as well as its gendered associations. 5 As I will show, 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

in Practising shame

and defining popularity and the ways that concepts of orality and literacy are useful. The chapter is guided by manuscript evidence for the organisation of a Middle English miscellany and the making of thematic connections between texts within it. While its focus is on the Gawain story, therefore, the chapter is also very much concerned with the ways that specific issues raised by this miscellany’s contents impact on and provide evidence for likely intended uses and readings of the Gawain story in this particular manuscript context. The combination of texts in this

in Popular reading in English c. 1400–1600

Middle English poetry is anything but the ideal way of preparing him to understand something old and difficult and complicated; for in his eagerness to find what must be there he will very likely miss what is there.’ For instance, far from the story of the fall being the centre of the ‘Nun’s Priest’s tale’, Coghill and Tolkien argued that it was only ‘jestingly invoked’ by means

in Chaucer in context

The nature and experience of reading, for the common and uncommon reader across the centuries, is an enduring subject of interest for academics, journalists, fiction writers, poets, and those straddling these definitions. This book focuses on the period c. 1400-1600 and there is a lot of surviving evidence for popular reading in English during these two centuries. It examines four kinds of literature in four case studies, which represent an important constituent part of the whole body of popular texts available for study c. 1400-1600. Other studies might examine some of the many other forms of available evidence for popular reading in medieval and early modern England. There has been much excellent work on reading in recent years. The book focuses on religious texts, moral reading, practical texts, and fictional literature. The purpose of a case study is not to cover everything about a particular subject. Aside from the idea of 'covering everything' being intellectually flawed, each of the books examined here takes the investigation in a specific direction. A theme at the heart of the book is the evidence that the material item of manuscript and printed book can provide for reading practice and experience. Page layout including the interactions of different kinds or colours of script and of picture and writing are important visual aspects of the material evidence. These are often not separable from issues of literary form and voice (poetry, prose, gloss, instruction) and of language.

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Society, allegory and gender

This book on Geoffrey Chaucer explores the relationship between Chaucer's poetry and the change and conflict characteristic of his day and the sorts of literary and non-literary conventions that were at his disposal for making sense of the society around him. Critics who consider the social meaning of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales fall into two main schools: those who present his social thought as an expression of the dominant spirit or ideology of his day and those who see Chaucer as possessing a more heterodox voice. Many of the present generation of Chaucer critics have been trained either as 'Robertsonians' or as 'Donaldsonians'. For D. W. Robertson, even those medieval poems which do not explicitly address religious issues were frequently intended to promote the Augustinian doctrine of charity beneath a pleasing surface; for E. Talbot Donaldson, there are 'no such poems in Middle English'. The book sets out the basics of the Augustinian doctrine of charity and of medieval allegorical theory and examines 'patristic' interpretations of Chaucer's work, particularly of the 'Nun's Priest Tale'. It looks at the humanist alternative to the patristic method and assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the patristic approach. The book also outlines some of the major medieval discourses about sexual difference which inform Chaucer's depiction of women, in particular, the tendency of medieval writers to polarise their views of women, condemning them to the pit or elevating them to the pedestal.

This collection of essays offers new perspectives that foster our understanding of the crucial role the Bible played in medieval culture as well as in the wake of the Reformation across Europe. The thirteen essays open up new horizons for the study of biblical drama by putting special emphasis on periodisation, the intersections of biblical narrative and performance, and the strategies employed by playwrights to rework and adapt the biblical source material. Special emphasis is placed on multitemporality, transnationality, and the modalities of performance and form in relation to the uses of the Bible in medieval and early modern drama. The three aspects are intertwined: particular modalities of performance evolve, adapt and are re-created as they intersect with different historical times and circumstances. These intersections pertain to aspects such as dramatic traditions, confessional and religious rites, dogmas and debates, conceptualisations of performance and form, and audience response – whenever the Bible is evoked for performative purposes. The collection thus stresses the co-presence of biblical and contemporary concerns in the periods under discussion, conceiving of biblical drama as a central participant in the dynamic struggle to both interpret and translate the Bible.

9 Caxton in the middle of English David Matthews In 1988, when Stephanie Trigg was embarking on her career at the University of Melbourne, she presented a paper at a Deakin University conference which was the genesis of her book Congenial Souls: Reading Chaucer from Medieval to Postmodern (2002). I was present at the conference as a second-year doctoral candidate and was grateful to have been invited to speak also. My own contribution, probably my very first academic paper, outlined what became much later my book The Making of Middle English, 1765–1910 (1999

in Contemporary Chaucer across the centuries