The King and Commoner Tradition: Carnivalesque Politics in Medieval and Early Modern Literature, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The King and Commoner Tradition

Carnivalesque Politics in Medieval and Early Modern Literature, 1st Edition

By Mark Truesdale


226 pages | 1 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2018-02-07
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King and Commoner tales were hugely popular across the late medieval and early modern periods, their cultural influence extending from Robin Hood ballads to Shakespearean national histories. This study represents the first detailed exploration of this rich and fascinating literary tradition, tracing its development across deeply politicized fifteenth-century comic tales and early modern ballads.

The medieval King and Commoner tales depict an incognito king becoming lost in the forest and encountering a disgruntled commoner who complains of class oppression and poaches the king’s deer. This is an upside-down world of tricksters, violence, and politicized feasting that critiques and deconstructs medieval hierarchy. The commoners of these tales utilize the inversion of the medieval carnival, crowning themselves as liminal mock kings in the forest while threatening to rend and devour a body politic that would oppress them. These tales are complex and ambiguous, reimagining the socio-political upheaval of the late medieval period in sophisticated ruminations on class relations. By contrast, the early modern ballads and chapbooks see the tradition undergo a conservative metamorphosis. Suppressing its more radical elements amid a celebration of proto-panoptical kings, the tradition remerges as royalist propaganda in which the king watches his thankful subjects through the keyhole.

Table of Contents

Introduction: "A rolle he had reading, / A bourde written therein he ffound"

1. Feasts and Surveillance in King Edward and the Shepherd: "Wode has erys; fylde has siȝt"

2. The Carnivalesque and Insurrection in John the Reeve: "I will cracke thy crowne!"

3. Hybridity and Transformation: Rauf Coilȝear, A Gest of Robin Hood, King Edward and the Hermit and The King and the Barker

4. Containment in the Early Modern Ballads: The King at the Keyhole


Appendix One: Early Analogues in Other Cultures, Chronicles, and Romance

Appendix Two: The King and Commoner Tradition on the Stage: "Mingling Kinges and Clownes"

Appendix Three: Select King and Commoner Publication History

About the Author

Mark Truesdale completed his PhD in 2016 at Cardiff University, producing a study of the fifteenth-century King and Commoner tradition and its early modern afterlife.

About the Series

Outlaws in Literature, History, and Culture

Outlaws in Literature, History, and Culture examines the nature, function, and context of the outlaw and the outlawed — people, spaces, practices — in the pre-modern world, and in its modern representations. By its nature, outlawry reflects not only the outlawed, but the forces of law which seek to define and to contain it. Throughout the centuries, a wide and ever-changing, and yet ever familiar, variety of outlaw characters and narratives has captured the imagination of audiences both particular and general, local and global. This series seeks to reflect the transcultural, transgendered and interdisciplinary manifestations, and the different literary, political, socio-historical, and media contexts in which the outlaw/ed may be encountered from the medieval period to the modern.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General
HISTORY / Europe / General
HISTORY / Medieval
HISTORY / Modern / 16th Century
LITERARY CRITICISM / European / General