Twisting Lines: Genealogy and Legitimacy in Fifteenth-Century English Literature

David Smigen-Rothkopf, Fordham University


Twisting Lines considers how fifteenth-century authors of Middle English literature responded to and were influenced by changing attitudes and discourses of gentility, generating new ways of turning social and linguistic instability into opportunity. Responding to contemporary scholarship that often argues that late medieval and early Tudor English literature was inflected by a gentry attitude of fear and anxiety, I argue that authors looked to the mutability of status, language, and identity in their times with a complex ambivalence, blending concern with creative opportunity. Focusing particularly on the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, Sir Thomas Mallory, and Henry Medwall, I argue that evolving discourses of gentility—a complex intersection of lineage, conduct, status, wealth, tradition, virtue, and language—served as models for poets trying to articulate concerns with and find meaning in their changing worlds. As I show, in their depictions of “gentilesse,” these authors were inspired to write, variably, about ethical socio-linguistic reform, finding consolation and hope amidst a sense of systemic loss, and meta-literary reflection on the impact of newly enfranchised voices. Challenging a notion of a literary environment born of fear and anxiety, Twisting Lines builds on literary and historicist criticism to explore how authors of the fifteenth century translated the instability, mutability, and diversity of their own times into opportunities for creative innovation and invention

Subject Area

Medieval literature|British and Irish literature|Language

Recommended Citation

Smigen-Rothkopf, David, "Twisting Lines: Genealogy and Legitimacy in Fifteenth-Century English Literature" (2022). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI29327969.