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Studies by Time Period > Medieval and Renaissance Studies

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Beyond a Common Joy Cover

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Beyond a Common Joy

An Introduction to Shakespearean Comedy

Paul A. Olson

“Soul of the age!” Ben Jonson eulogized Shakespeare, and in the next breath, “He was not of an age but for all time.” That he was both “of the age” and “for all time” is, this book suggests, the key to Shakespeare’s comic genius. In this engaging introduction to the First Folio comedies, Paul A. Olson gives a persuasive and thoroughly engrossing account of the playwright’s comic transcendence, showing how Shakespeare, by taking on the great themes of his time, elevated comedy from a mere mid-level literary form to its own form of greatness—on par with epic and tragedy.

Like the best tragic or epic writers, Shakespeare in his comedies goes beyond private and domestic matters in order to draw on the whole of the commonwealth. He examines how a ruler’s or a court’s community at the household and local levels shapes the politics of empire—existing or nascent empires such as England, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, Venice, and the Ottoman Empire or part empires such as Rome and Athens—where all their suffering and silliness play into how they govern. In Olson’s work we also see how Shakespeare’s appropriation of his age’s ideas about classical myth and biblical scriptures bring to his comic action a sort of sacral profundity in keeping with notions of poetry as “inspired” and comic endings as more than merely happy but as, in fact, uncommonly joyful.

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Bigamy and Christian Identity in Late Medieval Champagne

By Sara McDougall

The institution of marriage is commonly thought to have fallen into crisis in late medieval northern France. While prior scholarship has identified the pervasiveness of clandestine marriage as the cause, Sara McDougall contends that the pressure came overwhelmingly from the prevalence of remarriage in violation of the Christian ban on divorce, a practice we might call "bigamy." Throughout the fifteenth century in Christian Europe, husbands and wives married to absent or distant spouses found new spouses to wed. In the church courts of northern France, many of the individuals so married were criminally prosecuted.

In Bigamy and Christian Identity in Late Medieval Champagne, McDougall traces the history of this conflict in the diocese of Troyes and places it in the larger context of Christian theology and culture. Multiple marriage was both inevitable and repugnant in a Christian world that forbade divorce and associated bigamy with the unchristian practices of Islam or Judaism. The prevalence of bigamy might seem to suggest a failure of Christianization in late medieval northern France, but careful study of the sources shows otherwise: Clergy and laity alike valued marriage highly. Indeed, some members of the laity placed such a high value on the institution that they were willing to risk criminal punishment by entering into illegal remarriage. The risk was great: the Bishop of Troyes's judicial court prosecuted bigamy with unprecedented severity, although this prosecution broke down along gender lines. The court treated male bigamy, and only male bigamy, as a grave crime, while female bigamy was almost completely excluded from harsh punishment. As this suggests, the Church was primarily concerned with imposing a high standard on men as heads of Christian households, responsible for their own behavior and also that of their wives.

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Black Legacies

Race and the European Middle Ages

Lynn T. Ramey

Black Legacies looks at color-based prejudice in medieval and modern texts in order to reveal key similarities. Bringing far-removed time periods into startling conversation, this book argues that certain attitudes and practices present in Europe’s Middle Ages were foundational in the development of the western concept of race.

Using historical, literary, and artistic sources, Lynn Ramey shows that twelfth- and thirteenth-century discourse was preoccupied with skin color and the coding of black as “evil” and white as “good.” Ramey demonstrates that fears of miscegenation show up in all medieval European societies. She pinpoints these same ideas in the rhetoric of later centuries. Mapmakers and travel writers of the colonial era used medieval lore of “monstrous peoples” to question the humanity of indigenous New World populations, and medieval arguments about humanness were employed to justify the slave trade. Ramey even analyzes how race is explored in films set in medieval Europe, revealing an enduring fascination with the Middle Ages as a touchstone for processing and coping with racial conflict in the West today.

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Blessed Louis, the Most Glorious of Kings

Texts Relating to the Cult of Saint Louis of France

M. Cecilia Gaposchkin

Louis IX, king of France from 1226 to 1270 and twice crusader, was canonized in 1297. He was the last king canonized during the medieval period, and was both one of the most important saints and one of the most important kings of the later Middle Ages. In Blessed Louis, the Most Glorious of Kings: Texts Relating to the Cult of Saint Louis of France, M. Cecilia Gaposchkin presents six previously untranslated texts that informed medieval views of St. Louis IX: two little-known but early and important vitae of Saint Louis; two unedited sermons by the Parisian preacher Jacob of Lausanne (d. 1322); and a liturgical office and proper mass in his honor—the most commonly used liturgical texts composed for Louis’ feast day—which were widely copied, read, and disseminated in the Middle Ages. Gaposchkin’s aim is to present to a diverse readership the Louis as he was known and experienced in the Middle Ages: a saint celebrated by the faithful for his virtue and his deeds. She offers for the first time to English readers a typical hagiographical view of Saint Louis, one in counterbalance to that set forth in Jean of Joinville’s Life of Saint Louis. Although Joinville’s Life has dominated our views of Louis, Joinville’s famous account was virtually unknown beyond the French royal court in the Middle Ages and was not printed until the sixteenth century. His portrayal of Louis as an individual and deeply charismatic personality is remarkable, but it is fundamentally unrepresentative of the medieval understanding of Louis. The texts that Gaposchkin translates give immediate access to the reasons why medieval Christians took Louis to be a saint; the texts, and the image of Saint Louis presented in them, she argues, must be understood within the context of the developing history of sanctity and sainthood at the end of the Middle Ages.

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Blessing the World

Ritual and Lay Piety in Medieval Religion

Derek A. Rivard

In Blessing the World, Derek A. Rivard studies liturgical blessing and its role in the religious life of Christians during the central and later Middle Ages, with a particular focus on the blessings of the Franco-Roman liturgical tradition from the tenth to late thirteenth centuries.

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Boccaccio's Fabliaux

Medieval Short Stories and the Function of Reversal

Katherine A. Brown

Short works known for their humor and ribaldry, the fabliaux were comic or satirical tales told by wandering minstrels in medieval France. Although the fabliaux are widely acknowledged as inspiring Giovanni Boccaccio’s masterpiece, the Decameron, this theory has never been substantiated beyond perceived commonalities in length and theme. This new and provocative interpretation examines the formal similarities between the Decameron’s tales of wit, wisdom, and practical jokes and the popular thirteenth-century fabliaux.

Katherine Brown examines these works through a prism of reversal and chiasmus to show that Boccaccio was not only inspired by the content of the fabliaux but also by their fundamental design--where a passage of truth could be read as a lie or a tale of life as a tale of death. Brown reveals close resemblances in rhetoric, literary models, and narrative structure to demonstrate how the Old French manuscripts of the fabliaux were adapted in the organization of the Decameron.

Identifying specific examples of fabliaux transformed by Boccaccio for his classic Decameron, Brown shows how Boccaccio refashioned borrowed literary themes and devices, playing with endless possibilities of literary creation through manipulations of his model texts.

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Boethius and Aquinas

In this study of the relationship between Boethius and Thomas Aquinas, Ralph McInerny dispels the notion that Aquinas misunderstood the early philosopher and argues instead that he learned from Boethius, assimilated his ideas, and proved to be a reliable interpreter of his thought.

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The Book of Emperors

A Translation of the Middle High German Kaiserchronik

edited by Henry A. Myers

The Kaiserchronik (c.1152–1165) is the first verse chronicle to have been written in a language other than Latin. This story recounts the exploits of the Roman, Byzantine, Carolingian, and Holy Roman kings and rulers, from the establishment of Rome to the start of the Second Crusade. As an early example of popular history, it was written for a non-monastic audience who would have preferred to read, or may only have been able to read, in German. As a rhymed chronicle, its combined use of the styles of language found within a vernacular epic and a factual treaty was a German innovation. The Book of Emperors is the first complete translation of the Kaiserchronik from Middle High German to English. It is a rich resource not only for medieval German scholars and students, but also for those working in early cultural studies. It brings together an understanding of the conception of kingship in the German Middle Ages, from the relationship between emperor and king, to the moral, theological, and legal foundations of claims and legitimacy and the medieval epistemological approaches to historiography. This translation includes a substantial introduction that discusses the historical and philological context of the work, as well as the themes of power and kingship. Each chapter begins with a brief introduction that distinguishes historical truths from the epic fiction found within the original text.

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The Book of Peace

By Christine de Pizan

Edited by Karen Green, Constant J. Mews, and Janice Pinder

Christine de Pizan, one of the earliest known women authors, wrote the Livre de paix (Book of Peace) between 1412 and 1414, a period of severe corruption and civil unrest in her native France. The book offered Pizan a platform from which to expound her views on contemporary politics and to put forth a strict moral code to which she believed all governments should aspire. The text’s intended recipient was the dauphin, Louis of Guyenne; Christine felt that Louis had the political and social influence to fill a void left by years of incompetent leadership. Drawing in equal parts from the Bible and from classical ethical theory, the Livre de paix was revolutionary in its timing, viewpoint, and content. This volume, edited by Karen Green, Constant J. Mews, and Janice Pinder, boasts the first full English translation of Pizan’s work along with the original French text. The editors also place the Livre de paix in historical context, provide a brief biography of Pizan, and offer insight into the translation process.

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The Book of Pontiffs of the Church of Ravenna (Medieval Texts in Translation)

Agnellus of Ravenna

This translation makes this fascinating text accessible for the first time to an English-speaking audience. A substantial introduction to Agnellus and his composition of the text is included along with a full bibliography

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