chapter  1
14 Pages

I Medieval courtesy literature and dramatic mirrors of female conduct

As many historians have pointed out, the late Middle Ages was an era obsessed with codified and externalized behaviors. For aristocrats, such codes promised to maintain social identities at a time of blurring boundaries between upper and "middle" classes. However, the wealthy bourgeoisie and other upwardly mobile groups subverted the boundaries as they increasingly adopted aristocratic codes to define their new sense of worth and place in medieval society. Although the flourishing of courtesy literature during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was connected to both these impulses, I will be concerned here primarily with conduct books addressed to non-aristocratic women and their influence on the French and English cycle plays.