Practising shame

Female honour in later medieval England

How can one know if a woman is honourable? In medieval culture, female honour rested most heavily on one thing: sexual continence, or chastity. But how could one be absolutely sure if a given woman was chaste? Practising Shame demonstrates how, in the literature of later medieval England, female honour is a matter of emotional practice and performance – it requires learning how to ‘feel’ in a specific way. In order to safeguard their chastity, women were encouraged to cultivate hypervigilance against the possibility of sexual shame through a combination of inward reflection and outward comportment. Often termed ‘shamefastness’, this practice was believed to reinforce women’s chastity of mind and body, and to communicate that chastity to others through a combination of conventional gestures. At the same time, however, medieval anxiety concerning the potentially misleading nature of appearances rendered these gestures suspect – after all, if good conduct could be learned, then it could also be counterfeited. Practising Shame uncovers the paradoxes and complications that emerged out of the emotional practices linked to female honour, as well as some of the unexpected ways in which those practices might be reappropriated by male authors. Written at the intersection of literary studies, gender studies, and the history of emotions, this book transforms our understanding of the ethical construction of femininity in the past and provides a new framework for thinking about honourable womanhood now and in the years to come.

Abstract only
Log-in for full text

    • Full book HTML download
    • Full book PDF download (with hyperlinks)
All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 401 249 5
Full Text Views 243 180 3
PDF Downloads 240 172 3