The Letter of the Law: Legal Practice and Literary Production in Medieval England

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Scholars have long been aware of the looming presence of law in medieval English literature, from Christ as a litigious redemptor to Chaucer's deal-making Host in The Canterbury Tales. Most scholarly work on the subject has been confined either to tracking down representations of legal practices in texts or to examining formal questions relating to legal discourse. In a groundbreaking departure, The Letter of the Law suggests that law and literature should be understood as parallel forms of discourse-at times ...

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Overview

Scholars have long been aware of the looming presence of law in medieval English literature, from Christ as a litigious redemptor to Chaucer's deal-making Host in The Canterbury Tales. Most scholarly work on the subject has been confined either to tracking down representations of legal practices in texts or to examining formal questions relating to legal discourse. In a groundbreaking departure, The Letter of the Law suggests that law and literature should be understood as parallel forms of discourse-at times complementary, at times antagonistic, but always mutually illuminating.

Emily Steiner and Candace Barrington maintain that medievalists are uniquely placed to make valuable new contributions to the subject of law and literature, in part because of the inherently interdisciplinary nature of the study of medieval law, inseparable as it was from political theory and theology. The editors bring together medievalists from all over North America to explore the development of vernacular English literature within the context of legal discourse, practice, and conflict.

Treating texts as varied as Chaucer's Knight's Tale, the fifteenth-century Robin Hood ballads, and William Thorpe's account of his own heresy trial, the nine never-before-published essays in this volume reveal the intersections of legal and documentary culture with vernacular literary production. They establish that law and English literature were intimately bound up in processes of institutional, linguistic, and social change, and they explain how the specific conditions of medieval law and literature offer useful models in studying later periods. An appendix contains a translation by Andrew Galloway of History or Narration Concerning the Manner and Form of the Miraculous Parliament at Westminster in the Year 1386.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
This collection of nine essays, contributed by ten American scholars, explores connections between law and literature in medieval England, suggesting that Middle English literature "developed in with legal discourse, practices, and material culture, and further, that insular law and English literature were bound up together in larger processes of institutional, linguistic, and social change." Various texts are analyzed in support of this theory, including the Robin Hood ballads, , Gower's , Chaucer's , and . Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801487705
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2002
  • Series: 7/30/2008
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 Robin Hood: Thinking Globally, Acting Locally in the Fifteenth-Century Ballads 12
2 Land, Lepers, and the Law in The Testament of Cresseid 40
3 The Literature of 1388 and the Politics of Pity in Gower's Confessio amantis 67
4 Palamon's Appeal of Treason in the Knight's Tale 105
5 Language on Trial: Performing the Law in the N-Town Trial Play 115
6 "Acquiteth yow now": Textual Contradiction and Legal Discourse in the Man of Law's Introduction 136
7 Vernacular Legality: The English Jurisdictions of The Owl and the Nightingale 154
8 Inventing Legality: Documentary Culture and Lollard Preaching 185
9 The Generation of 1399 202
App History or Narration Concerning the Manner and Form of the Miraculous Parliament at Westminster in the Year 1386, in the Tenth Year of the Reign of King Richard the Second after the Conquest, Declared by Thomas Favent, Clerk 231
Index 253
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