Chaucer and Malory’s treatment of outlawry

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Gonzalez, Carolyn
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Susan Yager
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The Department of English seeks to provide all university students with the skills of effective communication and critical thinking, as well as imparting knowledge of literature, creative writing, linguistics, speech and technical communication to students within and outside of the department.

The Department of English and Speech was formed in 1939 from the merger of the Department of English and the Department of Public Speaking. In 1971 its name changed to the Department of English.

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  • Department of English and Speech (1939-1971)

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The medieval outlaw appears in historical, religious, and legal texts of late Medieval England and is imagined in fiction as well, specifically in the romance narratives of Geoffrey Chaucer and Thomas Malory. Outlawry was a legal state that could be imposed. Both Chaucer and Malory, especially the latter, found themselves outside the law at different points of their lives, an item to consider when examining the authors’ representation of knights acting outside the chivalric code. Both authors populate their romances with outlawry, illustrating the ethical, legal, and social assumptions of their own times. In Chaucer and Malory, knights can sometimes be outlaws, and when they are, they are often portrayed as running amok or going mad, leading them to a quest or to an act that must be completed before they can be reintroduced into society. Early critics Maurice Keen and Eric Hobsbawm narrowly defined what they saw as outlawry in medieval literature, but the more recent work of Timothy S. Jones renews the possibility of better examining outlawry’s intersection with medieval romance.

Outlawry has traditionally been associated with the narratives of Robin Hood, who is traditionally depicted as an outlaw wearing green who robbed the rich and gave to the poor. Yet broadening the definitions of what constitutes an outlaw narrative can lead to fresh readings of Chaucer’s and Malory’s work. To be outlawed, in medieval fiction, carries with it an additional displacement of a character’s human connection to others. In this project, I examine fictional knights tarrying in outlawed space while grounding my argument in historical narratives. In doing so, I illuminate how outlawry intersects with medieval romance, unveiling chivalry’s ideological blemishes.

Wed May 01 00:00:00 UTC 2019