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Form and Reform

Reading across the Fifteenth Century

Edited by Shannon Gayk and Kathleen Tonry

Publication Year: 2011

Form and Reform: Reading across the Fifteenth Century challenges the idea of any definitive late medieval moment and explores instead the provocatively diverse, notably untidy, and very rich literary culture of the age. These essays from leading medievalists, edited by Shannon Gayk and Kathleen Tonry, both celebrate and complicate the reemergence of the fifteenth century in literary studies. Moreover, this is the first collection to concentrate on the period between 1450 and 1500—the crucial five decades, this volume argues, that must be understood to comprehend the entire century’s engagement with literary form in shifting historical contexts. The three parts of the collection read the categories of form and reform in light of both aesthetic and historical contexts, taking up themes of prose and prosody, generic experimentation, and shifts in literary production. The first section considers how attention to material texts might revise our understanding of form; the second revisits devotional writing within and beyond the context of reform; and the final section plays out different perspectives on the work of John Skelton that each challenge and test notions of the fifteenth century in literary history.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press

Series: Interventions: New Studies in Medieval Culture


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

List of Abbreviations

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pp. ix-11

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pp. xi-xii

This volume began, as many books do, with some casual but excited conversation; this particular one started after a typically witty and provocative paper at Kalamazoo by Steven Justice on new formalism. That the conversation has been extended and deepened, both over time and among so many of our colleagues...

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Introduction. The “Sotil Fourmes” of the Fifteenth Century

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pp. 1-15

This stanza from the third book of Fall of Princes appears as John Lydgate launches a defense for the value of poetic work alongside other intellectual professions, including logicians, philosophers, lawyers, and physicians. Until the last couplet the argument of these lines is obvious, even pedestrian: practitioners...

Part 1. The Materials of Form

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pp. 17-31

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1. Forms of Reading in the Book of Brome

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pp. 19-39

The late-fifteenth-century Book of Brome—so-called because it was found at Brome Hall, in Suffolk—is best known for the Abraham and Isaac play it contains.1 Located early in the book (New Haven, CT, Yale University, Beinecke Library MS 365, ff. 15r–22r), this stand-alone pageant gives memorable...

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2. The Style of Humanist Latin Letters at the University of Oxford: On Thomas Chaundler and the Epistolae Academicae Oxon. (Registrum F)

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pp. 40-64

What was once said of English poetry of the fifteenth century—that it was just so much dull prattle—was also until recently a common description of humanist Latin literature of the same period. One might think of Joseph Ritson’s infamous characterization of Lydgate as that “voluminous, prosaic and...

Part 2. Forms of Devotion

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pp. 65-79

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3. Osbern Bokenham’s “englische boke”: Re-forming Holy Women

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pp. 67-87

The Austin friar Osbern Bokenham is well known to medievalists as the author of thirteen verse lives of female saints composed during the 1440s.1 Bokenham’s literary career apparently began in 1443, when his fellow friar Thomas Burgh talked him into writing an English life of St. Margaret. Other...

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4. “Ete this book”: Literary Consumption and Poetic Invention in John Capgrave’s Life of Saint Katherine

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pp. 88-109

When we think of fifteenth-century considerations of poetic form, the Augustinian friar John Capgrave is likely not the first author to come to mind. Capgrave, after all, worked largely in a devotional context and his best-known writings are a series of hagiographical vitae. Instead, we may invoke the...

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5. Jesus’ Voice: Dialogue and Late-Medieval Readers

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pp. 110-129

This essay considers three late-medieval English texts in which Jesus speaks: the well-known series of prayers called The Fifteen Oes; the vernacular translation of the fourth book of The Imitation of Christ composed by Margaret Beaufort; and Margery Kempe’s Book. Although the three works differ greatly...

Part 3. Reforming Skelton

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pp. 131-145

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6. Conception Is a Blessing: Marian Devotion, Heresy, and the Literary in Skelton’s A Replycacion

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pp. 133-158

What discursive quality, if any, categorically distinguishes literary from other uses of language? This question has been, somewhat ironically, a perennial one of literary theory from Plato to the present. Faced with the sheer number and variety of possible answers, one may be tempted simply to declare...

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7. Useless Mouths: Reformist Poetics in Audelay and Skelton

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pp. 159-179

The “useless mouths” in the title of Simone de Beauvoir’s play, Les bouches inutiles (1945), are those of the women, children, the old and the infirm of Vaucelles, a fourteenth-century Flemish city.1 When the city is under siege, they threaten to cause a dangerous drain on energy and provisions, and the resulting...

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8. Killing Authors: Skelton’s Dreadful Bowge of Courte

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pp. 180-196

Wynkyn de Worde’s “publication of Skelton’s Bowge of Courte, c. 1499, marks the first appearance in print of any substantial poem by a living English poet.”2 How ironic, then, that the first living poet to be published in England should represent himself, in this very poem, as committing suicide. The...


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pp. 197-212


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pp. 213-214


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pp. 215-222

E-ISBN-13: 9780814270615
E-ISBN-10: 0814270611
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814211632
Print-ISBN-10: 0814211631

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 10 halftones
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Interventions: New Studies in Medieval Culture