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Anticipating Audience in The Book of the Knight of the Tower

  • Elizabeth Allen
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

The later Middle Ages saw a proliferation of lay conduct books, including domestic handbooks for women, written in vernacular French and English.1 This occurred amid broader changes in the uses of books and writing, principally the increase in vernacular writing and the rise of print. While the Latin advisory text of Cat’s Distichs was widely used in the grammar curriculum, vernacular conduct books circulated in noble households and became part of the education of both boys and girls.2 Increasingly, they circulated among the households of prosperous bourgeois classes.3 As merchants gained increasing access to wealth and status, conduct books reflected social aspirations, becoming part of the material trappings of gentility.4 Such books, explicitly directed to inexperienced readers, claim to be instruments of social education. Their social advice—how to create a domestic sanctuary for one’s husband, how to conduct oneself at table—almost inevitably has moral import. The fourteenth-century Menagier de Paris advises his young wife about how to rid the house of fleas and flies in order to win her husband’s approval and attention, which at first seems a largely pragmatic aim. But the Menagier then goes on to compare the husband’s longing for his ideal wife to the longing of the penitent for Christ, and the domineering wife’s failure to submit to her husband to the overweening pride of Lucifer (Section 1, Article 7). To a great extent, such texts “seek to convert the dynamic and flexible activities of human behavior into more or less systematized sets of rules and advice.”5

Keywords

Moral Truth Eternal Truth Inexperienced Reader Male Audience Public Scandal 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Diane Bornstein, The Lady in the Tower: Medieval Courtesy Literature for Women (Hamden: Archon Books, 1983).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Alain Derville, “L’Alphabetisation du peuple à la fin du Moyen Âge,” Revue du Nord 26 (1984): 761–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Jonathan Nicholls, The Matter of Courtesy: Medieval Courtesy Books and the Gawain-Poet (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1985).Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Claire Sponsler, Drama and Resistance: Bodies, Goods, and Theatricality in Late Medieval England (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), p. 51.Google Scholar
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    Richard Firth Green, Poets and Princepleasers: Literature and the English Court in the Late Middle Ages (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980), pp. 101–34.Google Scholar
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    Helen Solterer, The Master and Minerva: Disputing Women in French Medieval Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).Google Scholar
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    Norman F. Blake, “The ‘noble lady’ in Caxto’ The Book of the Knyght of the Tome” Notes and Queries 210 (1965): 92–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Louise Gill, “William Caxton and the Rebellion of 1483,” The English Historical Review 112 (1997): 105–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Seth Lerer, Chaucer and His Readers: Imagining the Author in Late Medieval England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993).Google Scholar
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    William Kuskin, “Caxto’ Worthies Series: The Production of Literary Culture,” ELH 66 (1999): 511–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Elizabeth Allen 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth Allen

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