For medieval audiences women occupied a specific, designated cultural area which, while they could freely form it according to their will and nature, was in fact imaginary and immaterial. Women in social, legal, and religious contexts were mostly counted among the receptive, inactive, and non-ruling groups. On both levels, there was a group of features universally defining all women: the strong, virtuous and independent model Aquinas lamented was replaced in real life by the sinful, carnal and weak stereotype, and the erotic, emotional, mysterious, and often wild type present predominantly in literature. Indeed, women were a source of scientific, theological, and cultural fascination because of their uncanny and complex nature, producing both fear and desire of the source and nature of the unattainable and inaccessible femininity. In social contexts, however, the enchantress seems to lose that veil of allure and, instead, is forced to re-define her identity by suppressing, denying, or losing her supernatural features. With the example of Saint Agnes from the South English Legendary LifeofSaintAgnes, and Melior from PartonopeofBlois (ca. 1450), the article will explore how medieval texts dealt with the complex and unruly female supernatural, and how its neutralization and subduing fitted into the moral, scientific, and cultural norms of medieval society.
Fourteenth century England experienced social changes which influenced the attitude to crown law and triggered a growing distrust to law and its representatives. The progressing development of the gentry complicated the defining of offences, and diversified the means of punishing them. The Tale of Gamelyn presents a conflict between two brothers, sons of a knight, which went beyond the confinements of the household, transforming itself into a conflict between law and justice. Their feud is a cross-complaint concerning land, which soon turns into a spiral of violence in which one brother uses law to control and punish, and the other uses crime and violence to achieve justice. Using Donald Black’s theory of the sociological geometry of violence (2004) and of crime as social control (1983), this article will analyze the law in the tale as a tool of social control represented by Johan, and justice acquired with the use of self-help by Gamelyn. The article will attempt to prove that the story presents a complex relation between justice and law pinned across the varied spectrum of social classes, which Gamelyn changes a number of times, and will argue that the tale is an affirmation of violence as an underlying force of both law and justice, differing in presentation and realization according to social class.
This article deals with selected aspects of popular belief in post-Reformation England as compared to the pre-Reformation popular tradition of the fourteenth and fifteenth century. Through a discussion of the politics of superstition and religiously-shaped concepts of reason in Early Modern England, this article discusses medicinal magic, and the power of objects and words in the context of religion and popular belief, focusing in particular on leprosy and exorcism. By examining the Protestant understanding of the supernatural as well as its polemical importance, the article investigates the perseverance of popular belief after the Reformation and outlines some of the reasons and politics behind this perseverance, while also examining the role of the supernatural in the culture of belief in Early Modern England by tracing the presence and importance of particular beliefs in popular imagination and in the way religion and confessional rhetoric made use of popular beliefs.