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Studies by Time Period > Medieval and Renaissance Studies

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The Book of Sainte Foy

Edited and Translated by Pamela Sheingorn

The miracle stories surrounding Sainte Foy form one of the most complete sets of material relating to a medieval saint's cult and its practices. Pamela Sheingorn's superb translation from the Medieval Latin texts now makes this literature available in English. The Book of Sainte Foy recounts the virgin saint's martyrdom in the third century (Passio), the theft of her relics in the late ninth century by the monks of the monastery at Conques (Translatio), and her diverse miracles (Liber miraculorum); also included is a rendering of the Provençal Chanson de Sainte Foy, translated by Robert L. A. Clark.

The miracles distinguish Sainte Foy as an unusual and highly individualistic child saint displaying a fondness for gold and pretty things, as well as a penchant for playing practical jokes on her worshippers. In his record of Sainte Foy, Bernard of Angers, the eleventh-century author of the first parts of the Liber miraculorum, emphasized the saint's "unheard of" miracles, such as replacing missing body parts and bringing dead animals back to life.

The introduction to the volume situates Sainte Foy in the history in the history of hagiography and places the saint and her monastery in the social context of the high Middle Ages. Sheingorn also evokes the rugged landscape of south central France, the picturesque village of Conques on the pilgrimage road, and, most important, the golden, jewel-encrusted reliquary statue that medieval believers saw as the embodiment of Sainte Foy's miracle-working power. In no other book will readers enjoy such a comprehensive portrait of Sainte Foy and the culture that nurtured her.

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The Book of the Knight Zifar

A Translation of El Libro del Cavallero Zifar

translated by Charles L. Nelson

The Book of the Knight Zifar (or Cifar), Spain's first novel of chivalry, is the tale of a virtuous but unfortunate knight who has fallen from grace and must seek redemption through suffering and good deeds. Because of a curse that repeatedly deprives him of that most important of knightly accoutrements -- his horse -- Zifar and his family must flee their native India and wander through distant lands seeking to regain their rank and fortune. A series of mishaps divides the family, and the novel follows their separate adventures -- alternatively heroic, comic, and miraculous -- until at length they are reunited and their honor restored.

The anonymous author of Zifar based his early fourteenth-century novel on the medieval story of the life of St. Eustacius, but onto this trunk he grafted a surprising variety of narrative types: Oriental tales of romance and magic, biblical stories, moralizing fables popular since the Middle Ages, including several from Aesop, and instructions in the rules of proper knightly conduct. Humor in the form of puns, jokes, and old proverbs also runs through the novel. In particular, the foolish/wise Knave offers a comic contrast to the heroic Knight, whom he must continually rescue through the application of common sense.

Zifar was to have an important influence on later Spanish literature, and perhaps on Cervantes' great tale of a knight and his squire, Don Quixote. All those with an interest in Spanish literature and medieval life will be grateful for Mr. Nelson's excellent translation, which brings to life this extraordinary early novel.

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The Book of The Play

Playwrights, Stationers, and Readers in Early Modern England

edited by Marta Straznicky

The Book of the Play is a collection of essays that examines early modern drama in the context of book history. Focusing on the publication, marketing, and readership of plays opens fresh perspectives on the relationship between the cultures of print and performance and more broadly between drama and the public sphere. Marta Straznicky’s introduction offers a survey of approaches to the history of play reading in this period, and the collection as a whole consolidates recent work in textual, bibliographic, and cultural studies of printed drama. Individually, the essays advance our understanding of play reading as a practice with distinct material forms, discourses, social settings, and institutional affiliation. Part One, “Real and Imagined Communities,” includes four essays on play-reading communities and the terms in which they are distinguished from the reading public at large. Cyndia Clegg surveys the construction of readers in prefaces to published plays; Lucy Munro traces three separate readings of a single play, Edward Sharpham’s The Fleer; Marta Straznicky studies women as readers of printed drama; and Elizabeth Sauer describes how play reading was mobilized for political purposes in the period of the civil war. In Part Two, “Play Reading and the Book Trade,” five essays consider the impact of play reading on the public sphere through the lens of publishing practices. Zachary Lesser offers a revisionist account of black-letter typeface and the extent to which it may be understood as an index of popular culture; Alan Farmer examines how the emerging news trade of the 1620s and 1630s affected the marketing of printed drama; Peter Berek traces the use of generic terms on title pages of plays to reveal their intersection with the broader culture of reading; Lauren Shohet demonstrates that the Stuart masque had a parallel existence in the culture of print; and Douglas Brooks traces the impact print had on eclipsing performance as the medium in which the dramatist could legitimately lay claim to having authored his text. The individual essays focus on selected communities of readers, publication histories, and ideologies and practices of reading; the collection as a whole demonstrates the importance of textual production and reception to understanding the place of drama in the early modern public sphere.

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Books of Secrets

Natural Philosophy in England, 1550-1600

Allison Kavey

Ranging from alchemy to necromancy, books of secrets? offered medieval readers an affordable and accessible collection of knowledge about the natural world. Allison Kaveys study traces the cultural relevance of these books and also charts their influence on the people who read them. Citing the importance of printers in choosing the books contents, she points out how these books legitimized manipulating nature, thereby expanding cultural categories, such as masculinity, femininity, gentleman, lady, and midwife, to include the willful command of the natural world.

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The Bride of Christ Goes to Hell

Metaphor and Embodiment in the Lives of Pious Women, 200-1500

By Dyan Elliott

The early Christian writer Tertullian first applied the epithet "bride of Christ" to the uppity virgins of Carthage as a means of enforcing female obedience. Henceforth, the virgin as Christ's spouse was expected to manifest matronly modesty and due submission, hobbling virginity's ancient capacity to destabilize gender roles. In the early Middle Ages, the focus on virginity and the attendant anxiety over its possible loss reinforced the emphasis on claustration in female religious communities, while also profoundly disparaging the nonvirginal members of a given community.

With the rising importance of intentionality in determining a person's spiritual profile in the high Middle Ages, the title of bride could be applied and appropriated to laywomen who were nonvirgins as well. Such instances of democratization coincided with the rise of bridal mysticism and a progressive somatization of female spirituality. These factors helped cultivate an increasingly literal and eroticized discourse: women began to undergo mystical enactments of their union with Christ, including ecstatic consummations and vivid phantom pregnancies. Female mystics also became increasingly intimate with their confessors and other clerical confidants, who were sometimes represented as stand-ins for the celestial bridegroom. The dramatic merging of the spiritual and physical in female expressions of religiosity made church authorities fearful, an anxiety that would coalesce around the figure of the witch and her carnal induction into the Sabbath.

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Broken Harmony

Shakespeare and the Politics of Music

Music was a subject of considerable debate during the Renaissance. The notion that music could be interpreted in a meaningful way clashed regularly with evidence that music was in fact profoundly promiscuous in its application and effects. Subsequently, much writing in the period reflects a desire to ward off music's illegibility rather than come to terms with its actual effects. In Broken Harmony, Joseph M. Ortiz revises our understanding of music's relationship to language in Renaissance England. In the process he shows the degree to which discussions of music were ideologically and politically charged.

Offering a historically nuanced account of the early modern debate over music, along with close readings of several of Shakespeare's plays (including Titus Andronicus, The Merchant of Venice, The Tempest, and The Winter's Tale) and Milton's A Maske, Ortiz challenges the consensus that music's affinity with poetry was widely accepted, or even desired, by Renaissance poets. Shakespeare more than any other early modern poet exposed the fault lines in the debate about music's function in art, repeatedly staging disruptive scenes of music that expose an underlying struggle between textual and sensuous authorities. Such musical interventions in textual experiences highlight the significance of sound as an aesthetic and sensory experience independent of any narrative function.

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Buddhism and the Transformation of Old Age in Medieval Japan

Edward R. Drott

Scholars have long remarked on the frequency with which Japanese myths portrayed gods (kami) as old men or okina . Many of these "sacred elders" came to be featured in premodern theater, most prominently in Noh. In the closing decades of the twentieth-century, as the number of Japan's senior citizens climbed steadily, the sacred elder of premodern myth became a subject of renewed interest and was seen by some as evidence that the elderly in Japan had once been accorded a level of respect unknown in recent times. In Bodies in Time, Edward R. Drott charts the shifting sets of meanings ascribed to old age in medieval Japan, tracing the processes by which the aged body was transformed into a symbol of otherworldly power and the cultural, political, and religious circumstances that inspired its reimagination.


Drott examines how the aged body was used to conceptualize forms of difference and to convey religious meanings in a variety of texts: official chronicles, literary works, Buddhist legends and didactic tales. In early Japan, old age was most commonly seen as a mark of negative distinction, one that represented the ugliness, barrenness, and pollution against which the imperial court sought to define itself. From the late-Heian period, however, certain Buddhist authors seized upon the aged body as a symbolic medium though which to challenge traditional dichotomies between center and margin, high and low, and purity and defilement, crafting narratives that associated aged saints and avatars with the cults, lineages, sacred sites, or religious practices these authors sought to promote.


Contributing to a burgeoning literature on religion and the body, Bodies in Time applies approaches developed in gender studies to "denaturalize" old age as a matter of representation, identity, and performance. By tracking the ideological uses of old age in premodern Japan, this work breaks new ground, revealing the role of religion in the construction of generational categories and the ways in which religious ideas and practices can serve not only to naturalize, but also challenge "common sense" about the body.

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Bulletin of Medieval Canon Law

Vol. 30 (2013) through current issue

The Bulletin of Medieval Canon Law is dedicated to the history of canon law and, more broadly, the history of the Ius commune. It publishes high-quality peer-reviewed articles that deal with all aspects of church law and jurisprudence in the medieval and early modern periods. The journal, published annually, also provides a select bibliography of recently published essays and books to help scholars easily find the best recent works in their discipline.

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The Bureaucratic Muse

Thomas Hoccleve and the Literature of Late Medieval England

Ethan Knapp

Long neglected as a marginal and eccentric figure, Thomas Hoccleve (1367–1426) wrote some of the most sophisticated and challenging poetry of the late Middle Ages. Full of gossip and autobiographical detail, his work has made him immensely useful to modern scholars, yet Hoccleve the poet has remained decidedly in the shadow of Geoffrey Chaucer. In The Bureaucratic Muse, Ethan Knapp investigates the connections between Hoccleve's poetic corpus and his life as a clerk of the Privy Seal. The early fifteenth century was a watershed moment in the histories of both centralized bureaucracy and English vernacular literature. These were the decades in which Chaucer's experiments in a courtly English poetry were rendered into a stable tradition and in which the central writing offices at Westminster emerged from personal government into the full-blown modernity of independent civil service. Knapp shows the importance of Hoccleve's poetry as a site where these two histories come together. By following the shifting relationship between the texts of vernacular poetry and those of bureaucratic documents, Knapp argues that the roots of vernacular fiction reach back into the impersonal documentary habits of a bureaucratic class. The Bureaucratic Muse, the first full-length study of Hoccleve since 1968, provides an authoritative historical and textual treatment of this important but underappreciated writer. Chapters focus on Hoccleve's importance in consolidating key concepts of the literary field such as autobiography, religious heterodoxy, gendered identity, and post-Chaucer textuality. This book will be of interest to scholars of Middle English literature, autobiography, gender studies, and the history of literary institutions.

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The Burgundian Code

Book of Constitutions or Law of Gundobad; Additional Enactments

Translated by Katherine Fischer Drew. Foreword by Edward Peters

"Gives the reader a portrayal of the social institutions of a Germanic people far richer and more exhaustive than any other available source."—from the Foreword, by Edward Peters

From the bloody clashes of the third and fourth centuries there emerged a society that was neither Roman nor Burgundian, but a compound of both. The Burgundian Code offers historians and anthropologists alike illuminating insights into a crucial period of contact between a developed and a tribal society.

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