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Studies by Time Period > Medieval and Renaissance Studies

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Between Christian and Jew

Conversion and Inquisition in the Crown of Aragon, 1250-1391

By Paola Tartakoff

In 1341 in Aragon, a Jewish convert to Christianity was sentenced to death, only to be pulled from the burning stake and into a formal religious interrogation. His confession was as astonishing to his inquisitors as his brush with mortality is to us: the condemned man described a Jewish conspiracy to persuade recent converts to denounce their newfound Christian faith. His claims were corroborated by witnesses and became the catalyst for a series of trials that unfolded over the course of the next twenty months. Between Christian and Jew closely analyzes these events, which Paola Tartakoff considers paradigmatic of inquisitorial proceedings against Jews in the period. The trials also serve as the backbone of her nuanced consideration of Jewish conversion to Christianity—and the unwelcoming Christian response to Jewish conversions—during a period that is usually celebrated as a time of relative interfaith harmony.

The book lays bare the intensity of the mutual hostility between Christians and Jews in medieval Spain. Tartakoff's research reveals that the majority of Jewish converts of the period turned to baptism in order to escape personal difficulties, such as poverty, conflict with other Jews, or unhappy marriages. They often met with a chilly reception from their new Christian brethren, making it difficult to integrate into Christian society. Tartakoff explores Jewish antagonism toward Christians and Christianity by examining the aims and techniques of Jews who sought to re-Judaize apostates as well as the Jewish responses to inquisitorial prosecution during an actual investigation. Prosecutions such as the 1341 trial were understood by papal inquisitors to be in defense of Christianity against perceived Jewish attacks, although Tartakoff shows that Christian fears about Jewish hostility were often exaggerated. Drawing together the accounts of Jews, Jewish converts, and inquisitors, this cultural history offers a broad study of interfaith relations in medieval Iberia.

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Between the Living and the Dead

A Perspective on Witches and Seers in the Early Modern Age

By Eva Pocs

In examining the relics of European shamanism in early modern age sources, the techniques and belief-systems of mediators found in the records of witch-craft trials from the 16th-18th centuries, the author's goal was to explore the kinds of communication systems known to early modern Hungarians, the role of these systems in the everyday life of the village, and how they were connected to contemporary European systems. In addition, the author investigates the relations and changes of paradigm of the systems defined. The book represents a contribution to the most up-to-date international research into historical anthropology and the study of religions, drawing on Eastern European material and literature not previously included. On the basis of her material and analysis, the author contributes a number of new details, identifying new types of mediators and sys-tems which function right up to the twentieth century.

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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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Beyond Reformation?

An Essay on William Langland's Piers Plowman and the End of Constantinian Christianity

David Aers

In Beyond Reformation? An Essay on William Langland’s Piers Plowman and the End of Constantinian Christianity, David Aers presents a sustained and profound close reading of the final version of William Langland’s Piers Plowman, the most searching Christian poem of the Middle Ages in English. His reading, most unusually, seeks to explore the relations of Langland's poem to both medieval and early modern reformations together with the ending of Constantinian Christianity. Aers concentrates on Langland’s extraordinarily rich ecclesiastic politics and on his account of Christian virtues and the struggles of Conscience to discern how to go on in his often baffling culture. The poem’s complex allegory engages with most institutions and forms of life. In doing so, it explores moral languages and their relations to current practices and social tendencies. Langland’s vision conveys a strange sense that in his historical moment some moral concepts were being transformed and some traditions the author cherished were becoming unintelligible. Beyond Reformation? seeks to show how Langland grasped subtle shifts that were difficult to discern in the fourteenth century but were to become forces with a powerful future in shaping Western Christianity. The essay form that Aers has chosen for his book contributes to the effectiveness of the argument he develops in tandem with the structure of Langland’s poem: he sustains and tests his argument in a series of steps or “passus,” a Langlandian mode of proceeding. His essay unfolds an argument about medieval and early modern forms of Constantinian Christianity and reformation, and the way in which Langland's own vision of a secularizing, de-Christianizing late medieval church draws him toward the idea of a church of “fools,” beyond papacy, priesthood, hierarchy, and institutions. For Aers, Langland opens up serious diachronic issues concerning Christianity and culture. His essay includes a brief summary of the poem and modern translations alongside the original medieval English. It will challenge specialists on Langland's poem and supply valuable resources of thought for anyone who continues to struggle with the church of today.

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Beyond Tragedy

Structure and Experience in Shakespeare's Romances

Robert W. Uphaus

In this compact, yet comprehensive exploration of Shakespeare's romances, Robert W. Uphaus suggests that the romances bring us to a realm of human and dramatic experience that is "beyond tragedy." The inexorable movement of tragedy toward death and a final close is absorbed in romance by a further movement in which death can lead to renewed life, characters can experience a second time of joy and peace, and the audience's conventional expectations about reality and literature are challenged and enlarged.

In the late tragedies of King Lear and Antony and Cleopatra, Uphaus finds the tragic structure augmented by elements that will later contribute to the form of the romances. Turning then to the romances themselves, he sees these plays as forming a profession in which Pericles is a brilliant outline of the conventions of romance and Cymbeline is romance taken to its dramatic limits, in fact to the point of parody. Through his fresh and provocative readings of the plays we experience anew the delight of Shakespearean romance and glimpse the world of renewal at its heart.

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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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