Public Reading and the Reading Public in Late Medieval England and France

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For a long time scholars have generally shared the belief that late medieval authors - particularly in England and especially Chaucer - wrote for private readers. This book challenges that view and current orthodoxies in orality-literacy theory. It assembles and analyses in depth, for the first time, an overwhelming mass of evidence that in both Britain and France from the mid-fourteenth to the late-fifteenth century, literate, elite audiences continued to prefer public reading (aloud in groups) to private reading. This book offers the first sustained critique of Walter Ong's Orality and Literacy (1982), which has encouraged medievalists to underestimate the nature and role of late medieval public reading. Using an 'ethnographic' methodology, Joyce Coleman develops several schema from the data and applies them in analyses of texts including historical records, works by Chaucer and other writings into the late-fifteenth century.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
'This is a timely book, not only for medieval studies, but for wider debates about communities and communication. ... This is ground-breaking work, conducted with impressive wit and incision, and it yields a great deal of intellectual fruit. ... It ought to be a turning-point in our approach to literacy and in our construction of the history of reading.' Times Literary Supplement

'The implications of Joyce Coleman's thesis for further scholarship are enormous, making Public Reading an essential read.' South Atlantic Review

'Argumentative and convincing.' The Medieval Review

'Joyce Coleman's Public Reading and the Reading Public in Late Medieval England and France seeks to show, and does so convincingly, that although the lay aristocracy and bourgeois elites of late medieval England were widely able to read English or French personally and privately, they often recited it or heard it recited in company. Her book combines an investigation of historical sources about reading in England with a discussion of how English literature, mainly from Chaucer to Caxton, was meant to be read.' English Historical Review

'This is an important and interesting book which deserves scholarly attention and should change the way we think about reading in the past.' Susan Broomhall, Paregon

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521673518
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 6/30/2005
  • Series: Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature Series , #26
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction; 1. On beyond Ong: the bases of a revised theory of orality and literacy; 2. Taxonomies and terminology: the pursuit of disambiguity; 3. A review of the secondary literature; 4. The social context of medieval aurality: introductory generalisations from the data; 5. Aural history; 6. An 'ethnography of reading' in Chaucer; 7. An 'ethnography of reading' in non-Chaucerian English literature; Conclusion; Notes; Glossary; Bibliography; Index.

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