Manmade Marvels in Medieval Culture and Literature

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Manmade marvels of the later medieval courts--animated golden birds, mechanical angels, and other fantastic machines--were not merely amusing distractions, but also agents of social negotiation and political import. In Manmade Marvels, the dancing metal peacocks, animated statuary, and spectacular illusions of the romance tradition are disembedded from traditional literary representation as supernatural fictions, and situated in the political culture where mechanical marvels were fashioned to delight courts, garner prestige, and symbolize power. This book provides a synthesis of court politics and technological history, intellectual traditions, and the practices of everyday life. Lightsey restores these marvels to the cultural roles they played as they were created by craftsmen and consumed by elite culture, invigorating our understanding of the role of craft in embellishing noble lives with the marvelous.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Scott Lightsey's Manmade Marvels is a remarkable and unique work on a neglected aspect of late-medieval intriguing discussion of the complex and contested status of mechanical wonders in late-medieval society."--The Medieval Review

"This is extremely original and imaginative research and there is nothing else like it in the field. Lightsey has brought together an almost obsessive interest in curiosities and similacra with a sweeping theoretical framework that combines the History of Science with Cultural Studies. I believe that Lightsey’s book will not only be greeted with enthusiasm by his fellow medievalists, but will be regarded as a major contribution to what is now being called the secret life of things."--John M. Ganim, University of California, Riverside; Author of Medievalism and Orientalism
"Lightsey’s study of the proliferation of mechanical marvels in the later fourteenth and fifteenth centuries offers a fascinating view of English court culture and its critics. Focusing on the court of Richard II, Lightsey shows the dynamic interplay of wonder, curiosity, and connoisseurship in contemporary literary responses to this important aspect of royal spectacle."--Katharine Park, Harvard University; Author of Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750

“This study of constructed marvels in late medieval literature and culture shows that an interest in mirabilia was central to developing medieval court cultures and to the individuals, including artisans, who supported such cultures. The study cuts through disciplinary boundaries and contextualizes mirabilia in a highly original way, providing a new view of the role of the technical arts in writings such as Piers Plowman and in the culture that surrounded such writings.”--Pamela O. Long, Independent Historian; Author of Openness, Secrecy, Authorship: Technical Arts and the Culture of Knowledge from Antiquity to the Renaissance

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781403974419
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Publication date: 8/7/2007
  • Series: New Middle Ages Series
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 228
  • Product dimensions: 5.78 (w) x 8.61 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

Scott Lightsey is Assistant Professor of medieval English at Georgia State University in downtown Atlanta. His studies of Middle English political, travel, and romance literatures are complemented by a love of antiquated machinery developed over two decades of researching and restoring vintage European motorcycles. He lives in Decatur, Georgia, with his wife and two children.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Clever Devices, Marvelous Affinities
• By Angel's Hand: Langland, Richard II, and Craft Mirabilia
The Medieval Economy of Wonder: Chaucer, Marvels, and Techne
Bodies and Machines: the Subject of Technology * Advice to Kings and the Pursuit of Marvels: Gower's Monstrous Body Politic * Manufactured Marvels in Mandeville's Terrestrial Garden
• Conclusion: Marvelous Craft

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