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Rites of Passage

Rites of Passage: Cultures of Transition in the Fourteenth Century

Nicola F. McDonald
W. M. Ormrod
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Rites of Passage
    Book Description:

    Rites of passage' is a term and concept more used than considered. Here, for the first time, its implications are applied and tested in the field of medieval studies: medievalists from a range of disciplines consider the various theoretical models - folklorist, anthropological, psychoanalytical - that can be used to analyse cultures of transition in the history and literature of fourteenth-century Europe. Ranging over a wide variety of texts, from chronicles to romances, from priests' manuals to courtesy books, from state records to the writings of Chaucer, Gower and Froissart, the contributors identify and analyse medieval attitudes to the process of change in lifecycle, status, gender and power. A substantive introduction by Miri Rubin draws together the ideas and materials discussed in the book to illustrate the relevance and importance of anthropology to the study of medieval culture. Contributors: JOEL BURDEN, PATRICIA CULLUM, ISABEL DAVIS, JANE GILBERT, SARAH KAY, MARK ORMROD, HELEN PHILLIPS, MIRI RUBIN, SHARON WELLS. NICOLA F. McDONALD is Lecturer in Medieval Literature, W.M ORMROD Professor of Medieval History, University of York.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-281-8
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
    (pp. vi-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Nicola McDonald and Mark Ormrod
  5. Introduction: Rites of Passage
    (pp. 1-12)
    Miri Rubin

    The articles collected in this volume consider a varied and rich array of ritualized events and actions in the lives of late medieval people. They do so by testing the concept of rite de passage, which is now frequently used both in academic discussion and in daily parlance. The term was created in 1907 or 1908 by Arnold Van Gennep (1873–1957), the German-born and naturalized Savoyard folklorist and linguist. Van Gennep saw the life of an individual in any society as a series of passages ‘from one age to another or from one occupation to another’.¹ The rites which...

  6. Re-writing a Rite of Passage: The Peculiar Funeral of Edward II
    (pp. 13-30)
    Joel Burden

    Since Arnold Van Gennep first discussed his ideas on ‘rites of passage’ at the beginning of the twentieth century, it has come to be recognized that ritual, when deployed in particular types of social or political context, functions as a mechanism for mediating changes of status or the transferral of authority.¹ In essence, ritual plays a double trick, acting not only on the individual or individuals at the centre of the ritual, but also manipulating the perspective of those situated on the periphery of the ritual who observe a ‘seeming transformation’ taking place. In the medieval period, the transforming aspect...

  7. Coming to Kingship: Boy Kings and the Passage to Power in Fourteenth-Century England
    (pp. 31-50)
    W. M. Ormrod

    Rites of passage were a fundamental part of the repertoire of medieval (as they are of modern) monarchy, and played both a symbolic and a substantive role in the making and unmaking of kings.¹ There has been a good deal of work done especially on the religious aspects of these medieval rites, some of it informed by modern sociological and anthropological approaches, and all of it yielding interesting perspectives on the cultural significance of Christian doctrine and Catholic liturgy in the processes of ordered dynastic succession during the Middle Ages.² One need say little more in support of the argument...

  8. Boy/Man into Clerk/Priest: The Making of the Late Medieval Clergy
    (pp. 51-66)
    P. H. Cullum

    In principle, in fourteenth-century England the process of moving between the status of lay child and that of adult priest was long, and involved submission to a series of rites of passage or initiations. The process, however, was clear and each stage was tied to an age requirement so that the boy progressed from child to adult and lay to priest in a parallel development.¹ The orders had been developed in the early Church and remained accepted through the Middle Ages.² In the journey between boy or man and priest, there were seven orders divided between four minor and three...

  9. Manners Maketh Man: Living, Dining and Becoming a Man in the Later Middle Ages
    (pp. 67-82)
    Sharon Wells

    Man must consume food in order to live. About this simple fact even most academics would not choose to argue. One might even care to suggest that if food carries any absolute value it is its nutritional value. In fact, however, even this can be seen as a culturally-constructed value. Take the example of sugar. In the Middle Ages, cane sugar was imported into England in vast quantities from its place of production, the ‘leyes and pondes faste by þe ryuer Nilus’.¹ As an imported good, sugar carried with it the exoticism of its foreign place of production. It was...

  10. Rites of Passage in French and English Romances
    (pp. 83-108)
    Helen Phillips

    Many romances are concerned with the processes of growing up, and contain references to real-life ‘rites of passage’ for medieval boys and men, particularly of the landowning class, and also fictional and fantastic variants on these. Others trace a hero’s progress through formative experiences of lonely testing, hardship or humiliation, which have affinities with rites of passage, experiences through which the hero is changed, matured and ends in more satisfactory, even triumphant, conformity with the ideals of upper-class masculine adult identity. This paper examines all three categories: historically accurate rites; fictional or fantastic variants; and times of trial. Other themes...

  11. Becoming Woman in Chaucer: ‘On ne naît pas femme, on le meurt’
    (pp. 109-130)
    Jane Gilbert

    This essay considers the different relations between female characters, ideals of femininity, and death in two poems by Chaucer, the Book of the Duchess (hereafter BD) and the Legend of Good Women (hereafter LGW).¹ My argument on BD will be a version of that line of criticism which sees the poem as a funerary monument to the lady; the anthropological model here presented enhances understanding of this aspect of the poem. The absence in LGW of such a close fit between theory and text is itself productive, enabling us at once to refine the anthropological model and to argue that...

  12. John Gower’s Fear of Flying: Transitional Masculinities in the Confessio Amantis
    (pp. 131-152)
    Isabel Davis

    Icarus, in the classical fable and Book IV of John Gower’s Confessio Amantis, flies too high on artificial wings, against the advice of his father Daedalus. As the wax holding his flying machine together melts in the heat of the sun, Icarus goes into tailspin, plunges into the sea and drowns. Phaeton, on the other hand, again in contravention of paternal wisdom, pilots a flying chariot too low; he also submits to a watery death. The tales of these early aviators were regularly told together in the Middle Ages and operated as a double warning against the dangers of contravening...

  13. ‘Le moment de conclure’: Initiation as Retrospection in Froissart’s Dits amoureux
    (pp. 153-172)
    Sarah Kay

    This essay is concerned with initiation not as outward rites but as inner change. What does it mean to be initiated? Using dits amoureux by the fourteenth-century French poet Froissart I will argue that, from the point of view of the initiate, the fact of initiation is lost between the events that lead up to it and the retrospective awareness of it that follows. Initiation is thus experienced only as something that has already taken place. The short answer to my own question, then, is that being initiated means recognizing that one has been initiated. This account might be described...

  14. INDEX
    (pp. 173-176)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 177-178)