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A conceptual history 1200–1900

This collection explores how concepts of intellectual or learning disability evolved from a range of influences, gradually developing from earlier and decidedly distinct concepts, including ‘idiocy’ and ‘folly’, which were themselves generated by very specific social and intellectual environments. With essays extending across legal, educational, literary, religious, philosophical, and psychiatric histories, this collection maintains a rigorous distinction between historical and contemporary concepts in demonstrating how intellectual disability and related notions were products of the prevailing social, cultural, and intellectual environments in which they took form, and themselves performed important functions within these environments. Focusing on British and European material from the middle ages to the late nineteenth century, this collection asks ‘How and why did these concepts form?’ ‘How did they connect with one another?’ and ‘What historical circumstances contributed to building these connections?’ While the emphasis is on conceptual history or a history of ideas, these essays also address the consequences of these defining forces for the people who found themselves enclosed by the shifting definitional field.

‘Pears on a willow’?

-​Norman Literature:  A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts lists six texts that outline the duties of seneschals and landowners.3 Under the title ‘farming and estate-​management’, the tenth volume of A Manual of Writings in Middle English lists another seven items.4 But the bulk of these vernacular compositions dealing with agriculture is not concerned with the practicalities of farming. Instead these French and English works typically present an idealised demesne or estate and discuss the hierarchy of farmhands and their duties. Peasant wisdom, such as Walter of Henley’s remark about

in Household knowledges in late-medieval England and France

his community or nation,50 siege poems stress instead the factors that threaten to tear the community apart. Shepherd has pointed out the affinities between the Siege of Melayne and the sixteenth-century Capystranus, both of which depict the pressures brought to bear on the Christian nation by the threat of pagan – in the Capystranus, Turkish – domination.51 In his study of Middle English siege poems, Malcolm Hebron argues that these works ‘illustrate disasters of a magnitude which reveals the shape of history’. The siege is ‘a purging experience, a painful rite of

in Pulp fictions of medieval England
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In habit maad with chastitee and shame Ye wommen shul apparaille yow[.] ( The Wife of Bath’s Prologue , 342–3) 2 How can one know whether a woman is honourable? Such a question raises a number of problems, not the least of which is the definition of honour itself. The Middle English word honour encompassed good repute, respectability, and nobility of character, as well as

in Practising shame

fantasy stone dead. The idea that a romance hero might be chaast is another element in the parody, though probably for rather different reasons for modern and medieval audiences: heroism now is more often associated with being highly sexed, especially now that chastity is often misunderstood as meaning celibacy or virginity. At the very least, chastity is not a masculine attribute that any modern writer is likely to pick out for celebration. Even for Middle English writers, who as a group are much more likely to note their heroes’ sexual restraint, there is some cross

in Contemporary Chaucer across the centuries
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The home life of information

opportunities have been laid open for literary and cultural studies to address the multiple roles of the 6 6 Glenn D. Burger and Rory G. Critten household and its social implication. Middle English romance has proved a particularly rich site for investigating what D. Vance Smith has so suggestively termed ‘the Middle English household imaginary’.11 Smith’s work on the deeply rooted concern with assets management that characterises this genre draws on developments in romance studies, which have for some time been engaged in exploring the productive intersections of class

in Household knowledges in late-medieval England and France
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The Scottish Legendary and narrative art

Early Scots.10 The poet of the Scottish Legendary, however, refers to his language as ‘ynglis townge’ (XVIII, 1471), as was general practice in the later Middle Ages.11 What today is called Early and Middle Scots was in medieval times little different from the northern varieties of Middle English as regards both grammar and vocabulary, although it would be an oversimplification to maintain that that there were Introduction 3 no differences at all. Despite the political boundary the linguistic boundaries were clearly overarching. The identification of the dialect

in The Scottish Legendary

–9) Guy’s rejection of rich clothing in favour of his poor pilgrim’s weeds, armour and sustenance is a sign of his distance from courtly priorities; even though his acts of piety and atonement take place at royal courts, the romance is careful to keep Guy disentangled from the vain ambitions of the courtier. Unencumbered by courtly vanity, the pilgrim knight is called on to save the court from itself. The Stanzaic Guy of Warwick is one of many Middle English romances in which the knightly protagonist takes to the pilgrimage road. Collectively, these pilgrim romances

in Roadworks

-century Old French (OF) narrative poetry in couplets, in the twelfth-century Middle High German (MHG) romances of Gottfried von Strassburg and Hartmann von Aue, and in Pfaffe Lamprecht’s Early MHG Alexander-romance, the Alexanderlied (c.1130).2 The practice is likewise found in Middle English romances in couplets, such as Richard Coeur de Lion (c.1300), in Anglo-French narrative poetry and chronicles, such as Geoffrei Gaimar’s Estoire des Engleis (c.1136–50) and Robert Wace’s Roman de Brut (1155), in Middle Dutch chansons de geste, and, less frequently, in medieval

in Contemporary Chaucer across the centuries

a conversation. Note 1 Jonathan Wilcox, ‘“Tell Me What I Am”: The Old English Riddles’, in Readings in Medieval Texts: Interpreting Old and Middle English Literature , ed. David Johnson and Elaine Treharne (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 46–59, at p. 58.

in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition