The people rise up against the tyrants in the courtly world: John of Salisbury's policraticus, the fables by Marie de France, and the anonymous Mai und Beaflor

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Abstract

Whereas historical research has often pointed toward severe criticism of medieval kings and other rulers, the present paper unearths a number of vernacular texts where the poets express explicit opposition to an absolutist ruler and rise against his abuse of power. Whereas John of Salisbury provided the broad theoretical framework for this public discourse, Marie de France in her Fables and the anonymous author of the Middle High German verse romance Mai und Beaflor (late 13th c.) formulated surprisingly harsh and unmitigated comments on tyrannical rulers and condemned those in power who utilize their economic and military influence for personal goals to the disadvantage of the lower classes. In Mai und Beaflor we even observe a popular uprising against Duke Mai because the people falsely assume that he had ordered the murder of his wife and his child. This paper hence suggests that the political discourse in the Middle Ages was considerably more diversified and not at all muted by supreme rulers, or tyrants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-29
Number of pages13
JournalNeohelicon
Volume35
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Law

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